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Inhaled Insulin

Researchers, doctors, and people with diabetes agree that injected insulin works well for managing the disease. They will also likely say that delivering insulin through something other than a needle would be even better. The best option -- insulin in a pill -- is not feasible because the insulin would be destroyed by stomach acids. 

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Inhaled insulin is another option that’s been considered. Although it’s possible to make inhaled insulin, there are no inhaled insulin drugs on the market.

How Inhaled Insulin Works

The idea of inhaling insulin has been around for decades. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that researchers made it possible. First, insulin is made into a powder form. Insulin particles are delivered through an inhaler much like the type used by people with asthma. The powder is then inhaled into the lungs and enters the bloodstream through tiny blood vessels.

Inhaled Insulin and Exubera

The FDA approved the first inhaled insulin, called Exubera, in September 2006. People who have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes could use Exubera.

The drug’s maker, Pfizer, took Exubera off the market in October 2007 for financial reasons. The drug was expensive and didn’t seem to catch on with patients. In 2008, the FDA also expressed concern that Exubera could be linked to lung toxicities and lung cancer.

The Future of Inhaled Insulin

The withdrawal of Exubera from the U.S. market hasn’t ended the quest for inhaled insulin. There are other versions of the drug and inhalers currently in development for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

One is Afrezza, made by California-based MannKind Corporation. Afrezza is pre-metered ultra rapid acting mealtime insulin. The drug is designed for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, the FDA declined to approve Afrezza in early 2011 and asked the makers to provide more study data. 


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 27, 2012
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