Lilly Spends $1 Billion-Plus on Insulin Innovator Protomer
Protomer has a drug technology platform made up of proteins that can sense concentrations of specific molecules and adjust to create variable doses. This pipeline includes an insulin product that adjusts to different glucose levels in diabetic patients. The company was founded in 2014 by Caltech researchers led by Alborz Mahdavi. In November 2020, Lilly led an investment round that was supported by the JDRF T1D Fund. Early funding by JDRF T1D also included Paris-based Sanofi. The November 2020 round led to Lilly owning 14% of the company. Under the new deal, it is acquiring the rest of the stock.
In November 2020, Katie Ellias, managing director of the JDRF T1D Fund, said, “Protomer’s novel mechanism for glucose-responsive insulin is extremely promising and has the potential to be a game changer for people with type 1 diabetes.”
No specific financial details were disclosed other than to say the $1 billion figure was linked to various development and commercial milestones.
“Lilly has long strived to make life better for people living with diabetes and we have a continued determination to provide real solutions, including innovation in insulin therapy,” said Ruth Gimeno, vice president, diabetes research and clinical investigation at Lilly. “Glucose-sensing insulin is the next frontier and has the potential to revolutionize the treatment and quality of life of people with diabetes by dramatically improving both therapeutic efficacy and safety of insulin therapy. Protomer’s glucose-sensing insulin program, based on its proprietary molecular engineering of protein sensors (MEPS) platform, is showing significant promise and Lilly is excited to enhance our diabetes pipeline with the company’s innovative technology.”
Protomer calls their diabetes product “a smart glucagon.” That is to say, next-generation insulins that are glucose responsive. The insulin would automatically sense when blood sugar levels rise in the body and activate when needed and turn off when the blood sugar levels hit normal levels.
Alborz Mahdavi, chief executive officer and founder of Protomer, stated, “We are excited to join Lilly, a leader in diabetes therapies, and advance our science with their support to better serve the needs of patients. This transaction validates our team’s accomplishments, and we look forward to continuing our important work together with Lilly.”
Ellias, in today’s announcement, noted that this acquisition was “a significant milestone for the T1D community and a key step to bring the promise of Protomer’s game-changing technology one step closer to the clinic. Our early support and investment in Protomer is emblematic of our Fund’s mission to help companies with novel science accelerate next generation life-changing therapies for people living with T1D.”
Mahdavi added that, “We have been supported by JDRF since our inception and working closely with one of the leading organizations in type 1 diabetes research has been invaluable for us. The Protomer team is excited to embark on the next chapter of our work at Lilly as we focus our efforts on advancing glucose-responsive insulins and accelerating the development of these next-generation protein therapeutics.”
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Although it can develop in adults, it typically is diagnosed during childhood or adolescence. There is no cure. Treatment revolves around managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet and lifestyle. The cause is unknown, although typically the body’s immune system attacks the islets of Langerhans, the cells that produce insulin, in the pancreas. There appears to be genetic factors, although there are some indications of exposure to viruses and other environmental factors may play a role.