In this article, we examine the impact of Diabetes in the Middle East and show how Vitropep’s soluble microneedle technology can help.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that affects the body's ability to produce or use insulin, a hormone that helps cells absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood. Without sufficient insulin, cells are deprived of glucose and blood sugar levels become elevated, leading to a condition known as hyperglycemia. This condition can damage various bodily systems if not properly managed.
Metabolic factors like age, weight, diet, physical inactivity, and smoking can increase the risk of diabetes. A high body mass index (BMI) is a leading factor in the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Diet, including high intake of saturated fatty acids, high total fat intake, and inadequate consumption of dietary fibre, is also linked to a high BMI and risk of Type 2 diabetes. Recent evidence associates a high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a serious health condition that can be life-threatening. It can lead to numerous health complications, as shown in Figure 1.
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM):
More common in children.
If a parent has diabetes, 2% to 5% of children may develop T1DM.
About 20% of new T1DM cases occur in adults.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM):
Accounts for about 90% of all diabetes cases.
Most commonly diagnosed in individuals aged 40 and older.
Up to 14% of those with a parent having Type 2 diabetes may develop the disease, increasing to 45% with both parents affected.
Often asymptomatic; diagnosed during routine health checks revealing high blood glucose.
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM):
Identified by high blood glucose levels during pregnancy.
Increases the risk of high blood pressure, obstructed labour, and larger baby weights.
Exposure to hyperglycemia in the womb puts children at risk of becoming overweight or obese and potentially developing Type 2 diabetes.
Women with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes Rates Are Increasing Worldwide
An estimated 537 million people are suffering from Diabetes in 2024, 15% of them being well-treated for their condition. (Source: Novo Nordisk) Mortality rates increased by 3% between 2000 and 2019, and an estimated two million deaths were attributed to diabetes and related kidney disease in 2019 alone.
An International Diabetes Federation 2021 report says that 10.5% of the adult population (20-79 years) has diabetes, “with almost half unaware that they are living with the condition.” It projects a 46% increase in worldwide rates by 2045, with 1 in 8 adults (approximately 783 million) living with diabetes. An estimated 90% of people with undiagnosed diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries, where rates are rising faster than in high-income countries.
Diabetes in the Middle East
Diabetes is increasing in the Middle East, and the percentage of the population in Kuwait (24.9%), Qatar (19.5%), and Oman (13.8%) reported some of the highest rates in 2021. A sedentary lifestyle and diets high in sugar and fat are increasing the prevalence of obesity.
In the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, an average of 18% of the population has diabetes, and 28% are obese. While there are programs in place in both countries to reduce these rates, there remain challenges to overcome.
Combating Diabetes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
According to a World Journal of Diabetes review, “The figures for diabetes in the Arab world are particularly startling as the number of people with diabetes is projected to increase by 96.2% by 2035. Genetic risk factors may play a crucial role in this uncontrolled rise in the prevalence of T2DM in the Middle Eastern region. However, factors such as obesity, rapid urbanization and lack of exercise are other key determinants of this rapid increase in the rate of T2DM in the Arab world.”
Programs to combat increasing diabetes and obesity rates are now in place in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, effectively delivering these programs is challenging as populations are spread out across a large geographic area and doctors are concentrated in urban areas.
United Arab Emirates
In the United Arab Emirates, health spending is forecast to rise 15% to $20.1M (USD) by 2026, representing 4.6% of GDP.
National health care strategies:
Reduce cancer and obesity
Employ AI to minimize chronic and dangerous illnesses
Adopt a genomic medicine strategy and develop personalized genomic medication for patients
Develop robotic medicine
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in health care, and spending is forecast to reach $71M (USD) in 2026. This represents 7.8% of GDP, an 8.3% increase from today’s 7.2%.
National health care strategies:
Develop in vitro diagnostics
Increase innovations in digital and AI
Reduce obesity by 3% and diabetes by 10%
Reduce cancer mortality rates
Insulin has low stability and must be stored between 2°C and 8°C to maintain efficacy. Cold chain logistics in the Middle East can be challenging due to population spread, a desert climate, and unreliable electricity in remote regions.
Moreover, the average number of medical doctors per inhabitant in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is low (on average, 265 medical doctors per 100K inhabitants); therefore, self-administered medical solutions would significantly improve patients' quality of life.
Vitropep’s dissolving microneedle technology can solve these problems.
Dissolving Microneedle Technology to Treat Diabetes, Obesity, and Other Chronic Diseases
The most common methods of treating diabetes are insulin or GLP1 analogs, typically administered with subcutaneous injections via hypodermic needles or injection pens. But, these methods present a set of challenges:
Hypodermic injections are invasive and painful. An estimated 60% of children and up to 40% of adults experience trypanophobia – a fear of needles – resulting in low patient compliance.
Used hypodermic needles are biohazardous waste and require proper disposal to avoid the risk of disease transmission.
Injection pens create lots of waste and are costly to retrieve and recycle
Insulin must be stored at a stable, cool temperature.
There is an urgent need for an alternative to the hypodermic and injection pen models, and dissolving microneedle technology for transdermal drug delivery is the solution.
A dissolving microneedle patch looks like a small bandage—an array of microscopic needles project at specific lengths for each application on its surface. When you apply it to your skin, the tiny needles penetrate the outermost layer – the epidermis – and dissolve and deliver the drug or vaccine to the top layers of the skin. Your body absorbs the medicine over time.
Source: Waghule et al (2019)
Unlike painful hypodermic needles that deliver drugs subcutaneously (under the skin), painless microneedles deliver into the skin.
Vitropep is harnessing dissolving microneedle technology to treat chronic diseases painlessly. The company is developing a stabilized dissolving microneedle loaded with GLP1 analogs to treat Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Vitropep’s technology allows the making of concentrated, stabilized peptides for improved thermostability and ease of delivery to remote regions. The patch can be self-administered, increasing patient compliance and reducing visits to the doctor.
“We want to take the pain of existing treatments out of the equation: the physical pain of hypodermic injections and the figurative pain of relying on the cold chain. In the West, we are accustomed to having refrigeration everywhere. But in low- and middle-income countries, this can be a challenge. Our hope is that a microneedle patch to treat diabetes will remove barriers and democratize access to life-saving treatment.”
Microneedle patches are destined to replace traditional drug delivery mechanisms like the hypodermic needle to treat many diseases. They are easy to use at home and don’t require professional help. They avoid the “first-pass” effect of tablets and liquids, where the liver and gut absorb a fraction of the drug before it reaches its target.
Safe and easy application means less loss and more widespread, efficient delivery. Vitropep’s stabilized formulation disrupts the injection and cold chain markets while eliminating biohazardous waste for improved safety and environmental benefits.
Vitropep has filed a patent application for its stable peptide-based dissolving microneedle patch, which can painlessly penetrate the stratum corneum barrier and deliver a concentrated drug into the epidermis or upper dermis layer. This proprietary technology optimizes the advantages of dissolving microneedles and solves the concentration problem this industry faces. The result is a compact, cost-effective, pain-free patch that makes implementing and administering chronic disease management programs easier.
The company has already fabricated a prototype patch.
Vitropep’s commercial microneedle products will democratize drug delivery globally. As more products reach clinical stage testing, a fundamental shift in how we will receive treatment is underway.
If you are interested in our solution, we will be happy to discuss it with you for partnership!