Would you rather pop a pill in your mouth or get a shot in the arm? Dumb question, but it explains the interest in Emisphere Technologies ( EMIS). For the last 10 years, the small biotech firm has toiled over a technology that turns injectable drugs into pill or liquid form. The company says it's finally on the cusp of its first real breakthrough -- a cheap and easy-to-take liquid form of the widely used blood-thinning drug heparin. If Emisphere succeeds with oral heparin, it could grab a sizeable chunk of a $2 billion market. But the real prize is still out there for the taking: the use of Emisphere's oral drug carrier technology to develop insulin in a pill form. That's right, diabetics might just be able substitute an easy-to-swallow pill for some -- not all -- of their daily insulin shots. "This
oral insulin product has the potential to make an enormous improvement in the lives of patients," says Emisphere's CEO Michael Goldberg. "There are 150 million diabetics worldwide and the market is growing. We want to get our product out as soon as possible," he adds, hinting that a lucrative deal with a big pharmaceutical partner is in the works. But Emisphere has its doubters. There are good reasons why so many drugs are given by injection rather than orally. The large molecular structure of these drugs, combined with the inhospitable environment of the digestive tract, renders them inert or blocks them from entering the bloodstream. Emisphere's technology can't overcome these obstacles with enough reliability to meet the standards required for Food and Drug Administration approval, critics say.