Researchers are always pushing the envelope when it comes to finding a cure for diabetes; functional or curative therapies such as Smart Insulin have peaked the interest of the masses, holding hopes that Smart Insulin will live up to its name.

Smart Insulin is incredible to think about — I can hardly imagine daily life in which a single injection of Smart Insulin a day would be the extent of intervention needed to manage diabetes. Once injected, this insulin is formulated to control the rest, matching insulin output to blood sugar levels. If everything goes according to plan, pending human trials and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it will equate to massive changes in the way we approach the delicate balancing act associated with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Does this mean we can empty our purses, glove boxes and drawers of diabetes mechanical management tools like glucose meters, batteries, insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors, and all of those juice boxes and glucose tabs? Yes. The ultimate goal of Smart Insulin is to dramatically improve our quality of life and longevity with this disease.

What is Smart Insulin?

The most basic explanation of Smart insulin or “L-490” is that it essentially turns on when it’s needed and turns off when it isn’t, giving credence to its name.

Smart Insulin dates back to 1999 with a young Ph.D. student by the name of Todd Zion at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology (MIT). With success in hand, having won an entrepreneurial award for his work, he started a company in 2003 called SmartCells. Zion cashed in on his unique treatment approach when pharmaceutical giant Merck acquired SmartCells for more than half of a billion dollars in 2010 according to The New York Times.

“Zion’s trick was to attach a chemical arm — a short chain of sugars — directly onto the insulin molecule,” The New York Times reported. These necessary adaptations led to the FDA labeling his creation as a new drug, which would demand an onslaught of studies and approvals by the FDA. But after three years of research, Zion realized that in order for this drug to reach the people who could benefit, these were the necessary steps.

The Timeline for Smart Insulin

We are ecstatic about the idea of Smart Insulin. The insulin choices currently available have no such capacity; insulin tediously measured and injected to match carbohydrates, to correct high blood sugars and to mimic the body’s natural production of basal insulin which is distributed through insulin pumps and long acting insulin injections.

For those of us with our fingers on the pulse of this new insulin, the pace has been painfully slow and had virtually disappeared from public view when acquired by Merck. There are many hurdles and years remaining until Smart Insulin comes to market. “There is no known precedent of any drug for any disease designed to work automatically in response to a signal like rising blood glucose,” says JDRF. Smart Insulin will need to pass “a series of biologic and chemical challenges.”

JDRF, which is raising donations to support the creation of Smart Insulin, projects a 25 million dollar price tag and five years to advance Smart Insulin. Following Merck’s new timetable, assuming a six-year arm that began in 2014 with phase 1 human testing plus an FDA review period, the New York Times estimates Smart Insulin’s availability to be sometime in 2021.

To learn more about insulin and diabetes:

Amylin Gives Insulin a Boost
Know Your Insulin Options
All You Need to Know about Insulin