Skin condition drug used to treat recent onset type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on November 29, 2013

A drug used to treat the skin condition psoriasis could be useful in treating some aspects of type 1 diabetes but it would need to be used before the complete loss of insulin producing beta cells.

The researchers, led by Professor Mark Rigby at Indiana University in the United States, found that newly diagnosed patients taking alefacept needed fewer doses of insulin over the 12 month period than those who were given a placebo. The first group also experienced fewer hypoglycaemic events during this time.


Researchers found that newly diagnosed patients taking alefacept needed fewer doses of insulin and also experienced fewer hypoglycaemic events

Psoriasis, like type 1 diabetes, is an autoimmune condition, and alefacept is thought to work by suppressing the immune system T cells involved in both conditions, while leaving protective cells unaffected.

‘Alefacept is the first targeted biological drug assessed in patients with new onset type 1 diabetes that significantly depleted the T cells which attack the pancreas in type 1 diabetes, while preserving other immune cells which are important for pancreatic function,’ said Rigby.

This action is what made it a potential target to treat people with type 1. But Rigby pointed out that it would need to be used before the complete loss of insulin producing beta cells, within the first few months of diagnosis.

Although the study showed some promise for the 33 patients who received the drug, larger and longer term trials will now be needed to see how long the effects might last, and if there are any long term effects of taking the drug.

The current trial will continue for a further year, and if the results are encouraging, it may be followed by a full scale phase III clinical trial, a process that may take five to 10 years to complete.

The results of the study, funded by Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF,) are published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

Meanwhile, drug company Novo Nordisk is to launch a mid-stage clinical study of around 600 patients with a tablet version of a so called GLP-1 medicine as it steps up the hunt for diabetes pills that can replace injections.

The Danish company is already the world’s biggest supplier of diabetes medicines, which include its popular GLP-1 product Victoza. Like its top selling insulin, Victoza is currently delivered using a pen injection device.

An oral pill version would mark a step change in therapy by making treatment far more convenient, opening up a major new market at a time when cases of diabetes are soaring worldwide.

A total of 382 million people are now estimated to be living with the disease. The vast majority have type 2 diabetes, the kind linked to obesity and lack of exercise.

Making an oral form of such drugs is far from simple and a key hurdle is to ensure that the medicine is adequately absorbed in the body.

The company’s chief science officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen said the technical challenges meant there might be setbacks in the development programme but he was increasingly optimistic that producing an effective GLP-1 pill was feasible.

Novo Nordisk is also working on an oral version of insulin but that is at an earlier stage, with a decision on progressing into Phase II testing still around a year away.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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