Merck & Co has announced that it will acquire SmartCells, a private company based in Massachusetts which is developing a glucose-responsive insulin formulation for the treatment of diabetes.
Under the terms of the agreement, SmartCells shareholders will receive an undisclosed upfront cash payment and over $500 million if clinical and regulatory milestones are hit. It has developed a technology platform that auto-regulates the release of a therapeutic based on the plasma concentration of a designated molecular indicator.

In the case of insulin, Merck said, the technology employs an approach whereby insulin is available only in the presence of a specific glucose concentration range. If this approach is successful in the clinic, it has the potential to produce insulin analogues that may result in a lower risk of hypoglycaemia and improve control over both fasting and post meal glucose levels.

Nancy Thornberry, head, of diabetes and obesity at Merck Research Laboratories, noted that "if this investigational technology is ultimately approved for use with patients, it could provide an important new therapy [which] holds the potential to significantly impact the treatment of this disease". SmartCells co-founder and chief executive Todd Zion, added that "we have made important progress in rapidly advancing from early concept towards clinical development" and the deal "positions our novel technology for success in the hands of a leading pharmaceutical company with proven expertise and exceptional resources".