If you or someone you love deals with a chronic disease, you're likely aware of injections. New research is indicating that in the not-too-distant future, that same medication and routine vaccinations might come in a pill form.
For 10 years, biotech company Rani Therapeutics has been working on a robotic pill called the RaniPill. Rani means "queen" in Hindi and the idea is that RaniPill could be the queen of many health needs. The pill would replace injections.
"This is considered the holy grail of drug delivery," said Arvinder Dhalla, the VPO of clinical development at Rani Therapeutics. "People have been trying this for a very, very long time."
The team at Rani Therapeutics says companies big and small have been trying to turn injectable biologics into pills since insulin was discovered in the 1920s. In fact, there are researchers in Boston and San Diego that are working on something similar.
The simple fact is that taking a pill is easier than a shot. However, certain drugs are injected instead of ingested because our gut breaks them down like food before they can be absorbed.
CEO Talat Imran says they think they finally have the answer.
"So, it looks like a pill," Imran said. "You swallow it just like a pill, but it has as some people call it a robot inside of it, where when it gets to the small intestines, there's a self-inflating balloon that opens up and a syringe injects a microneedle into the intestinal wall and delivers whatever payload of drug you want to deliver."
Rani Therapeutics says the delivery mechanism deflates and is safely passed out, while the drug is absorbed by the intestinal wall.
"Our gut does not have sharp pain receptors," Dhalla said. "So, the injection is completely painless or pain-free. You don't even feel it."
From hormones or antibodies, to even COVID mRNA proteins, Dhalla says the pill has broad applicability. The lab simply loads whatever drug you need into the pill. It's something anybody could benefit from, but the company's mission is to end the burden of injections for people facing chronic disease.
"So, diabetes, cardio, metabolic disease, all the immunology diseases, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, patients who take oncology drugs," Imran said.
Imran says this pill could also stop the progression of a disease like osteoporosis, which is the gradual weakening of bones in postmenopausal women. It would replace a daily injection that they say most women don't start until after a bone fracture. Mir Hashim, chief scientific officer at Rani Therapeutics, says his aunt was a big inspiration for the idea of the RaniPill.
"I wish she was alive today because she would have benefited from this," Hashim said.
Rani Therapeutics is wrapping up its first phase of human clinical trials. Phases two and three will take at least two to three more years. After that, the pill will need to get FDA approval before it's available for doctors to prescribe to patients.
"We know that our work is going to make a difference to the lives of millions of people to alleviate pain and suffering," Hashim said. "That's really what drives nerds like us to do what we are doing every day."