Thursday, June 25, 2009

LCT To Start Phase-I Human Trial in New Zealand

LCT has (finally) gotten government approval to start a phase-I human trial of their DiabeCell product. This is an encapsulated pig pancreas treatment for type-1 diabetes. The New Zealand government has promised this approval months ago, after years of dragging their feet, and now has finally made good on it's commitment. However one important limitation has been put on the trial: only so-called "brittle" type-1 diabetics can be enrolled.

Although LCT is downplaying the importance of this limitation, it has the potential to delay the end of the trial still further. Previously, almost any type-1 diabetic could take part in the trial, so it was easy to find patients to participate. But now, only "brittle" type-1s can participate and that will doubtless cause delays in recruiting participants. "Brittle" diabetics are those diabetics who's BG can drop very quickly. These are the guys who can pass out while driving, or regularly end up in the hospital after collapsing.

Limiting the study to brittle diabetics should make for better results, because these guys have the worst control, and therefore should see the biggest improvements. So from that point of view, it is a good thing. However, it will also slow the trial and delay completion, which is not good.

I view limiting the study to brittle diabetics as 100% political ass-covering (please excuse the language). I think the New Zealand minister of health had delayed so long, that he simply could not just say "yes", because he could have (and should have) done that months ago. So by forcing a change -- any change -- he can claim that the delay was for a good reason. But it's a pointless restriction, and totally unjustified. Pancreatic transplants, which have huge side effects are limited to brittle diabetics, but these encapsulated transplants have basically no side effects, when compared with whole organ transplants. Putting the same restrictions on the patients for one as for the other is really a farce.

LCT has previously started a phase-I human trial in Russia, and so far, 7 people have been treated as part of that study. Some have been treated more than once, and data has been publicized. Some patients in that study were insulin free for a period of a few weeks. I felt the overall results suggested that the treatment did work, but that the implants stopped working just a few months after they were implanted. Others were a lot more excited about these results than I was.

I can not find a USA Clinical Trial record for this work (probably because it is being done in New Zealand), and the information I've read in the press about the experiment make it sound like a repeat of the Russian human trial. Eight patients, for example. Hopefully they will at least use larger doses, so they can learn something new that way.

While getting permission to run this trial is a step forward, I'm not exactly sure how it leads to general availability of the treatment. It is the second phase-I study started, but no phase-II study is planned (that I know of). In the past LCT had talked about a phase-II study in Denver, but when the economy got into trouble a few months ago, they stopped talking about that, and laid off at least one of the key people involved in it. So overall, I'm happy to see them do another study, but I'm also waiting for some information on how they plan to get from phase-I trials (which they have done and are doing) to general availability of the treatment.

Joshua Levy

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