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National Diabetes Awareness Month

Halozyme hopes enzyme can make insulin injections more predictable

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Halozyme Therapeutics Inc. is hoping to make life a little more predictable for diabetics who use a pump to administer their daily insulin.

The San Diego biopharmaceutical company has developed an enzyme -- a kind of protein that helps speed up chemical reactions -- that, when administered two or three times a week, can make insulin injections more consistent. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the company's Phase 1b study.

Halozyme Chief Executive Officer Dr. Gregory Frost explained that the chief advantage of the enzyme -- known as recombinant human hyaluronidase, or rHuPH20 -- is that it helps make it possible for drugs traditionally administered intravenously to be administered more easily through the skin. This means it's far easier, less time consuming and less costly to administer many treatments.

"We think this could have tremendous benefit as well as for payers, because it potentially reduces cost for delivering the medication," Frost said.

For diabetics, this means their insulin can get into their bloodstream faster. While rHuPH20 has potential implications in a number of diseases and disorders, Frost said it is especially promising for type 1 diabetics who use insulin pumps. Insulin pumps look almost like pagers; a patient can put them in a pocket or clip them to their clothes, and small catheters then run from the device into their skin. This makes it easier for type 1 diabetics to administer their insulin around meals. Frost estimated about 400,000 patients use these devices.

A complication can arise however, because insulin can take up to an hour to get into the blood stream. In some patients, this can sometimes lead to hypoglycemia, or extreme low blood sugar. This makes the patient's daily life unpredictable. Halozyme's recent study showed that by administering a small dose of rHuPH20 about once every three days, the insulin is absorbed into the blood more rapidly, and consistently.

“The more consistent physiologic insulin absorption profiles observed over infusion set life in these studies are promising,” said Daniel Einhorn, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego and medical director of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, who helped with the study. “Reducing the variability of insulin absorption should provide patients on insulin pump therapy improved ability to control diabetes while reducing risks of hypoglycemia.”

In the study, the enzyme rHuPH20 was administered separately from the insulin, but Frost said he would like to ultimately mix it with the insulin to avoid additional injections for patients. That approach will require more testing.

"This doesn't cure diabetes, but it has an incremental benefit," Frost said. "We think this could provide a very helpful tool both in terms of patient safety and in just helping them manage their disease better."

Frost said rHuPH20 has also shown promise in helping to hydrate patients on whom it's difficult to administer an IV, like children, and there is even some evidence of it opening up pathways to tumors, to make chemotherapy treatments more effective.

Halozyme (Nasdaq: HALO) often looks for multiple uses for its enzymes, Frost said.

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