What Lies Beneath: What You Should Know About Implantable Insulin

Joslin does not endorse specific products or companies. This post is meant to be informational only. 

A new insulin delivery system could do away with injections for people with type 2 diabetes
A new insulin delivery system could do away with injections for people with type 2 diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes and find yourself struggling to stick to your daily medication regiment, there may be a new long-term drug delivery system hitting the market. Scientists at the Boston-based company Intarcia Therapeutics are currently developing an implantable drug-loaded pump to treat diabetes.

The device, called the ITCA 650, is an inch long metal cylinder designed to be implanted under a patient’s skin. The company completed phase 3 clinical trials this October, with positive results.

Robert Gabbay, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer of the Joslin Diabetes Center, thinks this new technology could be a promising new tool to help treat diabetes. “The Phase 3 trials are encouraging,” he says.

According to these preliminary trials, overall, patients saw a 1.4 to 1.7 percent reduction in their HbA1C levels over 39 weeks of treatment. The tiny pump was even more successful for those starting with high baseline A1Cs. Those with HbA1C levels above 8.5 percent had a mean reduction of 2.5 percent, and those extremely high Hb1C levels (averaging 10.8 percent) saw their blood glucose levels reduced by 3.4 percent.

According to the company, Intarcia plans to present their full findings at the June 2015 ADA meeting in Boston.

Physicians developing this device are excited for the new delivery system, calling it a “game changer” in diabetes care. The matchstick-like pump would be inserted under a patient’s skin once or twice a year during a simple, five minute procedure.

According to the company, the pump eliminates the peaks and valleys associated with injections by releasing the drug exenatide (marketed as Byetta© and Bydureon©) in micro quantities continuously to maintain optimal blood sugar levels.

The technology behind this new device is a method of stabilizing organic substances. Exenatide, a synthetic hormone, usually breaks down within hours. But scientists have figured out how to stabilize the proteins, peptides and antibody fragments in the hormone for up to three & a half years—even at body temperature.

“This could be a useful new therapy and way to deliver exenetide and other molecules in a micropump to achieve better glucose control,” says Dr. Gabbay.

Intarcia Therapeutics recently struck a deal with the French pharmaceutical company Servier. Under the terms of the deal, Intarcia gives Servier exclusive rights to its investigational ITCA 650 device outside the United States and Japan. In return, Intarcia gets an upfront payment of $171 million, with additional payments at company milestones totaling more than $1 billion, according to an Intarcia statement. Intarcia will retain control of all US marketing and distribution.

Although there is no set timeframe for when this product might be available to patients, physicians at Joslin are glad for the burgeoning diversity in pharmaceutical options. “At Joslin we very much look forward to seeing further work with this new approach to drug delivery,” says Dr. Gabbay.

Do you need help managing your diabetes? Learn more about the Adult Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center.


  1. Couldn’t this same “stabilization” technology be used on insulin itself? To help it remain stable in regions of the world where there is no infrastructure to keep it cool such as Haiti? Type 1 is still a death sentence in many parts to the world and Type 2’s in those regions could benefit as well

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