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Needle-free diabetes treatment wins award

News story

A Curtin researcher hoping to one day take the needle out of diabetes has been recognised at the latest WA Innovator of the Year Awards.

Professor Erik Helmerhorst from Curtin’s School of Biomedical Sciences won the Mitsubishi Start Up category and will receive $50,000 to further develop their drug, which can treat diabetes by being conveniently swallowed at meal times as opposed to injected twice a day.

The insulin mimetic currently under development is a small molecule that mimics the effects of insulin, and is suitable for sufferers of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It is hoped replacing painful injections with a pill will help more diabetics comply with their treatment.

Professor Helmerhorst and his team’s new treatment would be cheaper to manufacture and store, thus cutting down on the estimated $100 billion spent on diabetes medication each year. Its lower cost will also make it more suitable for distribution in third world countries, allowing for better treatment for the hundreds of millions of diabetics around the world.


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This story has 6 comments

  1. james j pavana says:

    It will have seen of GOD for dibetic person like me……………………

  2. Kathleen Gregson says:

    As a parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes I would be interested in finding out more about your trials and any developments in your research.
    Many thanks

    • Erik Helmerhorst says:

      Hi Kathleen

      Firstly, let me place things in perspective regarding our research: we are developing small molecules that mimic the native hormone insulin. These small molecules have the key chemical features of insulin that enables it to bind to and activate the same specific protein on the surface of cells that leads to the same cascade of signalling events inside cells, that in turn lead to glucose uptake etc. Thus, our lead compounds are highly specific in the way they work (in contrast to some other antidiabetic (type 2) products such as metformin) and so we anticipate that our drug will have few side effects.

      Our research program is at a drug “lead optimisation” stage, which puts us several years away from clinical trialing, should we manage to get that far. Drug discovery programs demand rigorous testing in the laboratory before approval for first in humans can take place. It is important to recognise that even when one gets to phase 1 clinical trial, there is still only about a 20% chance at best of a product surviving the process and getting FDA approval. It is a long hard road, especially in the area of drug discovery. Bu† we are determined and will continue to work through the maze.

      In the first instance, we are targetting our drug for type 2 diabetics to delay their need to take daily insulin injections (about one third of all type 2 diabetics will need insulin therapy at the later stages of the disease). We are targetting this group because type 1 are absolutely dependent on insulin for their survival and we will need to be able to show that our alternative can indeed be as effective as insulin itself. Hopefully, that turns out to be so, in which case our product would also be of great utility for type 1 diabetics. But – as I said – we still have a long way to go.

      I hope this information is useful.

      Best wishes, Erik

      • Sergio says:

        dear professor
        I am writing to know where you are now with the research and if you are about to begin testing on humans, for which I would be interested. I have a type 2 diabetes with production of peptide c equal to 0.86.

        best regards


  3. Faraii says:

    Congrats!!! It is a big step that you have taken and a small celebration in comparison to the endless hours you have committed to your endeavours. I am humbled by your selfless contribution to this desperate realm of medication. You will forever be a hero to many, eternally.

    Thank You


  4. Kerrie Martin says:

    I have just seen a 9 News video clip on Facebook describing the work you are doing with a Mediterranean herb called Golden Germanda (apologies if the name is spelt incorrectly).

    However, when I do a Google search, I can’t find any reference to this herb at all.

    Would you be able to send me some relevant internet links so I can read up on this herb a bit more?

    Many thanks in advance,


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