Novo Nordisk has begun Phase I trials on an long-acting oral glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) analogue for diabetes.

The aim of the trial, which is being conducted in the UK, is to investigate the safety, tolerability and bioavailability of NN9924 in healthy volunteers. The trial will enroll around 155 individuals and results are expected in 2011.

Novo launched its injectable once-daily GLP-1 drug Victoza (liraglutide) in Europe last summer but acknowledges that there are many challenges in developing an oral formulation, in particular obtaining adequate bioavailability. However the company notes that NN9924 “addresses some of these key challenges” by utilizing partner Emisphere’s Eligen technology to facilitate absorption from the gut. The start of the trial has triggered a $2 million milestone payment to the latter.

GLP-1 is a natural hormone that stimulates the release of insulin only when blood sugar levels become too high. Novo is still waiting for US approval for liraglutide to compete with the once-weekly formulation of Eli Lilly and Amylin's Byetta (exenatide).

Peter Kurtzhals, head of diabetes research at Novo, said “we still have a long road with many challenges ahead of us before an insulin pill or a GLP-1 pill becomes a reality”. However, he added that “with the progress we have made so far, I am convinced it is only a matter of time.”