To describe the rationale for the preclinical and clinical developmental course of human proinsulin (HPI), the second product after human insulin for the treatment of diabetes mellitus to be manufactured by DNA technology.

Research Design and Methods

The relevant and available published and unpublished preclinical and clinical information generated on pork proinsulin and human proinsulin has been integrated to demonstrate how certain clinically attractive features of pork proinsulin (a soluble intermediate-acting and possibly hepatospecific insulin agonist) led to the development of HPI.


Clinical pharmacology studies demonstrated that HPI was definitely, although marginally, hepatospecific. More striking was the finding that the intrasubject/patient coefficient of variation of response to HPI was significantly less than that observed with NPH insulin. However, the fact that unique efficacy in controlled multicenter studies was not demonstrated suggested that these pharmacological features were not translated into clinical benefit. In one multicenter new patient study there were six myocardial infarctions, including two deaths, in patients treated for ≥1 yr with HPI and none in the control group.


To obtain an independent review of the risks and benefits of HPI, in February 1988, Lilly convened a consultant group that examined all relevant information on HPI available. These experts shared our concerns about the safety of HPI in light of the failure to demonstrate unique efficacy. Accordingly, clinical trials with HPI were suspended in February 1988. Experience with HPI demonstrates the challenge associated with the development of new drugs in general and insulin agonists in particular.

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