Beyond Insulin: The Future of Dual Hormone Treatment
Editor’s Note: This content was made possible with support from Zealand Pharma, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication.
While insulin is the hormone without which people would die, as it is required to convert food to fuel in the body, there are other hormones typically not produced or properly used by the body in people with diabetes that make a difference in overall health and quality of life, like amylin and glucagon. As research progresses and we continue to learn more about how a person with diabetes’ body operates, researchers are working hard to determine how to best regulate these hormones in the body, making the overall management of diabetes less burdensome.
To learn more, we spoke with Emmanuel Dulac, the CEO of Zealand Pharma, a company that does work specifically around peptide hormones like glucagon and better ways to deliver it. On the horizon for Zealand Pharma is the exciting dual hormone pump, containing both insulin and glucagon, which is about to enter Phase 3 clinical trials.
The transcript of the interview is below, with the video version of the interview at the end.
Hello everyone. This is Lala Jackson on the Beyond Type 1 team. I have a really special interview today. We’re going to get a little bit of an inside sneak peek into a company that’s doing really amazing things in the diabetes space. Today, we’re speaking with Emmanuel Dulac, the CEO of Zealand Pharma.
Let’s start with your background. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Emmanuel Dulac: Thank you very much for having me. On behalf of Zealand, I’m very excited to be able to introduce our company to your audience. In terms of background, you said it—my name is Emmanuel Dulac. I’m the CEO of Zealand Pharma. I’m originally from France, from Paris, as you can hear.
I currently live in Denmark where the company has been historically based. Before coming to Denmark, I lived in the US for many, many, many years. My kids were born in the US—(not all of them are because they are in college, but) I have one left in the house here in Denmark. We lived in Switzerland as well, during that time. [I’ve] worked in large pharma as well in different biotechs. I’m a scientist by background. I see progress through science and the pursuit of human science. So I’m very happy to be talking to you.
And what is Zealand pharma? Explain to us the company a bit.
So Zealand is a biotech that was formed 20 years ago—22 years ago to be exact —on the technology around peptide. And so over the last 22 years, the company has harnessed peptide technology—peptides are naturally occurring. They are messengers in the body. And so we are modifying existing peptides. The company today is being perceived as a very fast-growing biotech company with a very late stage pipeline.
What makes Zealand pharma unique to approach this?
It is actually the fact that we’re a small, a medium-sized company, 300 employees, and the fact that we don’t have anything else to work with besides peptide technology. Having one technology forces you to focus on this technology. And science is hard. What we do is really, really challenging.
You never find… I would say, we talk about magic bullets. You don’t find the magic bullet. You build it and you build it after failing many times. So you advance something in preclinical, and then you fail maybe five or six times, and then each time you fail, you come to the table, you discuss the issue.
You try to modify the agent in the molecule, that solution—you try to modify the metrics and measures you’re putting on it. And then you go forward, you move ahead to the next challenge. And I think there are many opportunities to give up in life. When you face some unpredicted toxicology or something, you can actually abandon and move to another project, or you can actually decide to move on.
The company—having one technology and one team—s forced to progress using this one. And I think that’s why you see most of the innovations are actually coming from small companies, because they are actually sticking with what they have and they are making it happen.
What I love in Zealand Pharma, what is unique is this very collaborative and very resilient mindset of, we’re going to make it work. Most of the employees are still in the company. The company is 22 years old. I am giving out prizes for the people who have been the most loyal in the company. It is amazing, the number of people that have been there 20 years, 22 years. That makes a big difference. Loyalty makes a huge difference.
Why the focus on unmet needs and improving the lives of people living with diabetes?
I’m personally touched by type 1 diabetes in my family. I have a nephew who is a type 1 since he’s two years old. I’ve seen how hard it is—for his parents before and now for himself as a young adult—to stay in range or even manage his disease on a daily basis. I think how well he’s doing is probably typical to his age where, you know, the less we talk about it, the better he feels.
It reminds me when 20 years ago, 25 years ago, in medical school, we were being taught that diabetes now is just a mere complexity because the disease was treated, but the entire burden is actually on the patient—maintaining your, your diet, your exercise, your treatment and to be able to have a “perfect” blood glucose level, because that’s what the doctors are looking for.
Perfection is near impossible. And the burden and the pressure is on the patients. I feel that what we are doing here, the vision we have for the patients—it’s very pragmatic. It’s real.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
2021 is a massive year for Zealand Pharma. Big one for us is to initiate the Phase 3 [clinical trial] for the Dual Hormone Pump, which is something that we are all focusing the entire company energy on.
We’re excited for 2021 and all that Zealand pharma will be bringing to us. And thank you so much for speaking with us, Emmanuel.
Thank you very much for again, giving me access to your audience and happy new year to you.