While the majority of current diabetes treatments focus on reducing blood glucose levels, hypoglycemia represents a significant risk associated with insulin treatment. Glucagon plays a major regulatory role in controlling hypoglycemia in vivo, but its short half-life and hyperglycemic effects prevent its therapeutic use for non-acute applications. The goal of this study was to identify a modified form of glucagon suitable for prophylactic treatment of hypoglycemia without increasing baseline blood glucose levels.
Through application of the XTEN technology, we report the construction of a glucagon fusion protein with an extended exposure profile (Gcg-XTEN). The in vivo half-life of the construct was tuned to support nightly dosing through design and testing in cynomolgus monkeys. Efficacy of the construct was assessed in beagle dogs using an insulin challenge to induce hypoglycemia. Dose ranging of Gcg-XTEN in fasted beagle dogs demonstrated that the compound was biologically active with a pharmacodynamic profile consistent with the designed half-life. Prophylactic administration of 0.6 nmol/kg Gcg-XTEN to dogs conferred resistance to a hypoglycemic challenge at 6 hours post-dose without affecting baseline blood glucose levels. Consistent with the designed pharmacokinetic profile, hypoglycemia resistance was not observed at 12 hours post-dose. Importantly, the solubility and stability of the glucagon peptide were also significantly improved by fusion to XTEN.
The data show that Gcg-XTEN is effective in preventing hypoglycemia without the associated hyperglycemia expected for unmodified glucagon. While the plasma clearance of this Gcg-XTEN has been optimized for overnight dosing, specifically for the treatment of nocturnal hypoglycemia, constructs with significantly longer exposure profiles are feasible. Such constructs may have multiple applications such as allowing for more aggressive insulin treatment regimens, treating hypoglycemia due to insulin-secreting tumors, providing synergistic efficacy in combination therapies with long-acting GLP1 analogs, and as an appetite suppressant for treatment of obesity. The improved physical properties of the Gcg-XTEN molecule may also allow for novel delivery systems not currently possible with native glucagon.