Due to the inherent pharmacokinetic properties of available insulins, normoglycemia is rarely, if ever, achieved in insulin-dependent diabetic patients without compromising their quality of life. Subcutaneous insulin absorption is influenced by many factors, among which the associated state of insulin (hexameric) in pharmaceutical formulation may be of importance. This review describes the development of a series of human insulin analogues with reduced tendency to selfassociation that, because of more rapid absorption, are better suited to meal-related therapy. DNA technology has made it possible to prepare insulins that remain dimeric or even monomeric at high concentration by introducing one or a few amino acid substitutions into human insulin. These analogues were characterized and used for elucidating the mechanisms involved in subcutaneous absorption and were investigated in preliminary clinical studies. Their relative receptor binding and in vitro potency (free-fat cell assay), ranging from 0.05 to 600% relative to human insulin, were strongly correlated (r = 0.97). In vivo, most of the analogues exhibited ∼100% activity, explainable by a dominating receptor-mediated clearance. This was confirmed by clamp studies in which correlation between receptor binding and clearance was observed. Thus, an analogue with reduced binding and clearance gives higher circulating concentrations, counterbalancing the reduced potency at the cellular level. Absorption studies in pigs revealed a strong inverse correlation (r = 0.96) between the rate of subcutaneous absorption and the mean association state of the insulin analogues. These studies also demonstrated that monomeric insulins were absorbed three times faster than human insulin. In healthy subjects, rates of disappearance from subcutis were two to three times faster for dimeric and monomeric analogues than for human insulin. Concomitantly, a more rapid rise in plasma insulin concentration and an earlier hypoglycemic response with the analogues were observed. The monomeric insulin had no lag phase and followed a monoexponential course throughout the absorption process. In contrast, two phases in rate of absorption were identified for the dimer and three for the normal hexameric human insulin. The initial lag phase and the subsequent accelerated absorption of soluble insulin can now be explained by the associated state of native insulin in pharmaceutical formulation and its progressive dissociation into smaller units during the absorption process. In the light of these results, the effects of insulin concentration, injected volume, temperature, and massage on the absorption process are now also understood. When given to diabetic patients immediately before a standard meal, the monomeric analogue lowered postprandial glucose excursions by ∼50% when compared with human insulin given at the same time. Subsequently, it was shown that three monomeric to dimeric analogues injected separately just before a meal gave glycemic control at least comparable to that of human insulin administered 30 min earlier. Lower plasma glucose concentrations (∼50%) were observed with the analogues from 1.5 h postprandially. Thus, monomeric analogues are faster in onset of action, can be given with the meal without losing glycemic control, and have the potential to minimize late hypoglycemia. Therefore, the development of these novel insulins represents a major step in the evolution of insulin preparations to subserve meal-related insulin requirements.

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