Scientists from Novo Nordisk and the laboratories of Professor Giovanni Traverso and Professor Robert Langer have been exploring novel technologies as alternatives to syringes and pen injectors since 2015, looking to co-create devices that safely and effectively deliver biologic medicines through oral administration.
"This is a true co-creation research partnership where each party contributes with their distinct scientific expertise," said a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk.
The combined work of the research teams has resulted in several scientific publications describing their breakthrough work, including the SOMA robotic pill, which has subsequently been licensed exclusively to Novo Nordisk for clinical development.
The new agreement extends the research tie-up through 2026, expanding the scope to encompass the creation and integration of bioelectronics, biosensors and stimuli-responsive delivery devices.
“We continue to explore the immense potential for enhanced delivery of biologic drugs and stem cell-derived therapeutics through the platforms we are developing,” said Giovanni Traverso, the Karl van Tassel, Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
In terms of the new focus on bioelectronics, biosensors, and stimuli-responsive delivery devices, the Novo Nordisk representative told us it is too soon to say exactly which solutions within those categories will be developed through the collaboration.
"But we will explore the possibility of creating novel delivery devices with the ability to sense signals from the body, to emit electrical signals that can stimulate the body to respond in different ways, and even to encapsulate and deliver cell therapies.
"Our initial collaboration led to several novel inventions in the oral delivery space, and we hope we will be as successful on this next step of the journey," continued the spokesperson.
The most mature achievement to date, arising from this collaborative exercise, is the self-orienting millimeter-scale applicator (SOMA) pill, he added.
"This is a robotic pill the size of a blueberry, that borrows from the self-righting leopard tortoise design: when it reaches the stomach, it orients itself to always deploy into the stomach wall upon activation by a dissolvable sugar plug."
SOMA was first described using solid milliposts of API needles (Science 2019), and was further expanded to demonstrate, using large animal models, that the technology can be configured to transport and inject liquid formulations of commonly injected drugs into the stomach (Nature Biotechnology 2021).
"Most recently it was shown in a large animal model that it is possible to deliver RNA using the SOMA device (Matter, 2022)."
Novo Nordisk has secured the exclusive license to develop SOMA across all therapy areas: "Our oral devices project team continues to work on developing new methods and trial designs to bring SOMA into clinical testing."