Design of non-standard insulin analogs for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.
Structure-based protein design has enabled the engineering of insulin analogs with improved pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties. Exploiting classical structures of zinc insulin hexamers, the first insulin analog products focused on destabilization of subunit interfaces to obtain rapid-acting (prandial) formulations. Complementary efforts sought to stabilize the insulin hexamer or promote higher-order self-assembly within the subcutaneous depot toward the goal of enhanced basal glycemic control with reduced risk of hypoglycemia. Current products either operate through isoelectric precipitation (insulin glargine, the active component of Lantus; Sanofi-Aventis, Paris, France) or employ an albumin-binding acyl tether (insulin detemir, the active component of Levemir; Novo-Nordisk, Basværd, Denmark). In the past year second-generation basal insulin analogs have entered clinical trials in an effort to obtain ideal flat 24-hour pharmacodynamic profiles. The strategies employ non-standard protein modifications. One candidate (insulin degludec; Novo-Nordisk a/s) undergoes extensive subcutaneous supramolecular assembly coupled to a large-scale allosteric reorganization of the insulin hexamer (the TR transition). Another candidate (LY2605541; Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis, IN, USA) utilizes coupling to polyethylene glycol to delay absorption and clearance. On the other end of the spectrum, advances in delivery technologies (such as microneedles and micropatches) and excipients (such as the citrate/zinc-ion chelator combination employed by Biodel, Inc., Danbury, CT, USA) suggest strategies to accelerate PK/PD toward ultra-rapid-acting insulin formulations. Next-generation insulin analogs may also address the feasibility of hepatoselective signaling. Although not in clinical trials, early-stage technologies provide a long-range vision of "smart insulins" and glucose-responsive polymers for regulated hormone release.