ARPA-H announces project to treat metabolic diseases with oral pills


ARPA-H announces project to treat metabolic diseases by developing oral pills to replace surgeries or injections 

Ingested therapies could be more affordable and easier to use for people with diabetes or obesity 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) today announced the REvolutionizing the Oral route: delivery of electroceuticals and mRNA therapeutics for transforming health (REO) project, which aims to create two unique oral therapeutics to treat metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Over 50% of the U.S. population has a metabolic disorder, the current treatments for which require frequent injections or invasive surgery. As a result, patients are less likely to seek treatment or comply with dosage schedules. REO seeks to replace those therapies by developing two types of oral capsules that interact with the digestive system. 

The first pill-sized device would sense its location in the stomach and, when aligned, deliver mRNA directly into the gastrointestinal (GI) lining. The mRNA would then instruct cells to produce a therapeutic protein needed to treat a disease like diabetes. The second device would be an electroceutical that binds to the GI lining for a few weeks, electrically stimulating it to secrete the hormones that help manage hunger and satiety.  

“When invasive surgery or injections are the standard of care, we know we can develop a better solution,” said ARPA-H Program Manager Paul Sheehan, Ph.D. “It will take an interdisciplinary team working on mRNA chemistry, miniature engineering, and sensing to open the doors to make sophisticated pills the go-to therapies for common metabolic disorders.” 

Improvements in mRNA formulas and how devices sense and deploy therapeutics have applications beyond metabolic diseases. With a budget of up to $65.6 million, REO aims to develop novel ingestible devices that could change how other common diseases are managed as well as how the latest therapeutics are delivered. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will lead this project. 

REO is one of multiple projects solicited through the agency’s Open Broad Agency Announcement (Open BAA). The ARPA-H Open BAA seeks transformative ideas for health research or technology breakthroughs. Continued support of each award is contingent on projects meeting aggressive milestones. To learn more about projects as they are awarded, visit the Open BAA page.