Friday, February 1, 2013

Possible Cures for Type-1 in the News (Early Feburary)

These two news updates are both interesting, and each probably deserves it's own blog entry.  However, since I'm backlogged, I'm putting them together in one posting (together with a Zhao update).  Even after this posting, I'm still a month or more behind.

Results from a Polish Trial of Polyclonal Tregs

What is being tested?  I call this technique "Polyclonal Tregs", but I'm not sure if it has a more official name.  Basically, the researchers remove one specific type of T regulator cell (called a "CD3(+)CD4(+)CD25(high)CD127(-)" T regulator) from a person with type-1 diabetes.  They use these cells to grow a lot more of these cells outside of the body, and then put them back in the body.  Since regulatory T cells naturally regulate the body's immune system, the hope is that they will prevent the autoimmune attack which causes type-1 diabetes.  Previous research in both animals and people has supported the idea that increasing regulator T cells may be a path to a cure.  

The Polish group tested this technique on 10 recently diagnosed (within 2 months) type-1 patients and compared them to 10 patients who did not get the treatment.  4 people got a lower dose (10 × 10^6 Tregs/kg) and 6 people got a high dose (twice as much).  In my opinion, they packed a lot of research into a small trial.  However there were no differences between the lower dose group and the higher dose group.  

Because it was an early trial, safety was an important consideration, and there were no safety related issues.  So that was good.  The publication had effectiveness data from a short (four month) follow up.  Basically:
  • The treated patients generated about 50% more C-peptide than untreated.
  • The treated patients used about half the injected insulin as untreated.
  • A1c levels were about the same.
You can see that here:
Remember: grey bars are untreated and white bars are treated.

But remember, these people were within 2 months of diagnosis, and even at the end of the data presented here, were within 7 months of diagnosis, so well within the common honeymoon timeframe.  So I think longer follow on is critical to understanding how important these results are.  If these patients are still using half the insulin that untreated patients are using after 2 years, that would be wonderful.

The good news right now is that they already have one year follow up data, and expect to get it published later in 2013.  Beyond that, they have some improvements to the protocol, and hope to start a follow on trial with an updated protocol soon.  

The Other Polyclonal Treg Study ...

This is not the only study using this "Polyclonal Treg" method.  About two years ago a very similar study started in San Francisco.  Dr. Gitelman is running it, and results are expected in 2016.   I've blogged in the past about this trial here:

This trial has now enrolled its first two groups (out of four total).  I'm told all subjects are doing well with stable pancreas function. The researchers are currently in the middle of the 3rd group, and they anticipate completing the full study enrollment this year.  Each group gets 8 times as large a dose as the previous group so the last group will get about 500 times as much as the first.

... and the Ethics of Experimenting on Children

There is an obvious question here: If both studies started at about the same time, why does one have results 4 years sooner than the other?  I think there are two answers to this question.  The first is pretty simple: the Polish researchers published data covering 4 months after treatment.  The American researchers are gathering data for years.  But that only explains about 20 months of difference.

The second reason might be more important: The American researchers are only enrolling adults, people over 18 years old.  The Polish researchers enrolled children, 5-18 years old.  Obviously, when you are looking for recently diagnosed type-1 diabetics, there are a lot more to be found in the 5-18 year range than the 18+ year range.  By limiting recruitment to adults, the Americans have a much smaller pool of people, and it will therefore take them much longer to fully populate their trial.

But why are the American researchers only enrolling adults?  That answer is a combination of ethics and previous experience.  There is a general ethical principal (enshrined in various FDA rules, and international guidelines) that research should be done on adults first, before it is done on children, if that is feasible.  That makes a lot of sense, of course, but here we see the impact.  For a disease like type-1 diabetes, it is possible to recruit recently diagnosed adults, but it is far harder and slower.  So if we insist that the first bunch of patients are adults, it serves to slow down research disproportionately.

The Polish group had previously run a similar clinical trial in adults with a different disease (graft vs. host disease).  Now measuring safety in adults with one disease is not exactly the same as measuring safety in adults with a different disease, but it is similar.  Therefore, they could recruit children based on the safety profile with adults in the previous study.  Also, they could test different doses more quickly, again based on the previous experience.

Full paper: (Thanks to ADA's DiabetesCare.)

Clinical trial record for the American study:

More Details on This Treatment

One way to view the immune system is a balancing act.  We want aggressive immune cells to attack foreign cells, but overly aggressive cells might attack our own beta cells and cause type-1 diabetes.  So we also want regulatory immune cells to keep the aggressive cells in line.  But we don't want those cells too strong, because then they would prevent an attack on the foreign cells.  In this view, type-1 diabetes can be seen as a too aggressive immune system, and therefor boosting the regulatory side might be a cure.

The regulatory cells which are been grown out (or "amplified" might be a better word) are general purpose regulatory cells.  That's a good place to start, but it would be even better if the researchers could multiply a regulatory cell that specifically targeted autoimmune cells (the "bad" cells that are attacking the wrong target).  Unfortunately, the technology is not there yet, although people are working on it.  But in any case, we need to start somewhere.

Below is a link to a study that suggests that newly diagnosed type-1 diabetic children have lower levels of these T regulator cells, than children who do not have type-1 diabetes.  (Although it was a small group.)

A Note About "Remission"

Some type-1 researchers use the term "remission".  Specifically, they use it to mean "Uses less than 1/2 a unit of insulin per kg of body weight per day".   Don't be confused.  Non-researchers think of "remission" as meaning "doesn't use insulin", but that is NOT how researchers use the term.   If your child weighs 40 kg (about 88 pounds), and uses 20 units of insulin, or less, then they are "in remission", and this does happen to some people during the honeymoon.

Perle Bioscience Starts two Phase-III Clinical Trials of Cyclosporine and Lansoprazole ("Prevacid")

Dr. Claresa Levetan at Perl Bioscience has filed the paperwork to start two very interesting studies.   Both studies are looking at a combination of Cyclosporine and Lansoprazole (commonly known as "Prevacid") as a cure for type-1 diabetes.  The two studies are identical, but one recruits honeymooners and the other established type-1 diabetics.  These are combo clinical trials exactly like many people have been hoping for, for years:  Cyclosporine is known to stop the autoimmune attack and Lansoprazole is known to encourage the natural regrowth of pancreatic beta cells.  Both are approved drugs (for other diseases).  Lansoprazole (as "Prevacid") is over the counter, so has a very good safety profile.  Cyclosporine has a more complex safety profile.  I'm sure if this study pans out, the relative safety of Cyclosporine is going to be an important topic of discussion.

Both studies are expected to enroll 200 people (half getting the treatment and half getting placebo).  They plan to start in September 2013 and end by March 2014 (so very quick).   There will be four groups: one group getting both drugs, one just getting Cyclosporine, one just getting Lansoprazole, and one getting neither.  This is good experimental design for a two drug combination. They will measure C-peptide in response to eating, A1c, and insulin usage.

Note on phases: The researchers running this trial have described it as a "phase-III trial", however I consider it a phase-II trial.  Why the difference?  For me, size is the most important issue.  At 200 people, it is right on the border between what I consider phase-II and phase-III for clinical trials aimed at curing type-1 diabetes.  (For comparison, all eight recent phase-III trials have involved 300 people.  That seems to be the magic number for FDA approval as a pivotal trial in type-1 diabetes.)  Also, this combination of drugs has never (to my knowledge) been tested on type-1 diabetics before.  Since both drugs are approved for other things, I'm willing to call it phase-II (rather than phase-I), but with zero experience with the combination, I'm not willing to call it a phase-III.

Of course, the important question is not what I consider the trial, or even what the researchers consider the trial, the real question is how will the FDA consider the trial?  That remains to be seen, but remember: since both drugs are already approved for other uses, your doctor can prescribe this combination right now.  It would be an off label use.

The researcher working on this, Dr. Claresa Levetan, previously worked on CureDM, and sold that to Sanofi-Aventis two years ago.  My understanding is that they are developing the CureDM technology (a peptide which stimulates beta cell development) for the type-2 market.

Wikipedia on Lansoprazole:
Wikipedia on Cyclosporine:
Clinical Trial Record (Honeymoon):
Clinical Trial Record (Established):

More Background on

Zhao Updates from Spain 

Previous blogging on Zhao's "Stem Educator" is here:

These two links go to Spanish language news reports on people getting treated with the Stem Educator in Spain.  I found that using Chrome to translate them into English worked pretty well for me:

The basic summary is that the clinical trial in Spain has started.  Two patients had their first session of stem cell educator therapy in December 2012.  The plan is to treat a total of 30 people.  (Not sure how many are placebo and how many will get the real treatment.)  The two treated so far have had type-1 for over 10 years.  This trial is expected to end in September 2014, but we will not know with certainty until it is fully enrolled.

JDCA State of the Cure 2012

The JDCA (Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance) is trying to focus more research dollars into cure research (as opposed to treatment research, cause research, etc.)  They publish research papers, which are often quite interesting.  They use my blog as a source, and we sometimes discuss various research issues.

The article below is their year end summary, and well worth a read.  Although I certainly don't agree with everything in it, it is a rich source of information.  (I especially object to their not including Dr. Zhao's research as a possible cure, and JDCA did cover Zhao in a report after this one.)

A Final Note

In the past, I have included a specific "thank you" when people reviewed a blog posting, provided information for it, or pointed out the news to me (when only one person did so).  Unfortunately, keeping track of who helped with what, and also making sure it was OK to thank them by name, has become too much of a burden.
So I'm going to stop doing that.

I'm very sorry I will not be able to thank people individually for their help in writing this blog.  But I do want to thank:
  • My wife, who improves my English, and puts up with the hours I spend yelling at the computer when I should be talking with her.
  • All the researchers who have answered my questions and provided extra information.
  • Everyone who emails me when they see news that I should cover.

Joshua Levy
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. 
Clinical Trials Blog:
Cured in Mice Blog:


U can succeed ! said...

Josh -- You deserve all the thanks! You are da best and I am so glad your blog was one of the first things I found when my daughter was diagnosed over a year ago. One more thing on Dr. Levetan. She is also working on another Reg peptide BRAD (Beta Regeneration Agent for Diabetes) and awaiting for approval form the FDA. Take care! Again thanks for all you do for all of us!

Unknown said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.
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Bennet said...

Thanks again Josh for another fascinating read. Off to recommend it. Keep up the fine work. - Bennet

Tino said...

Thanks Josh, every day for years checking your blog. It's my way to see the progress in diabetes. Sorry for my English I'm writing with translator. Keep it up please.

Unknown said...

I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. As a father of T1 child you keep me educated and up to date. I can feel your energy positive or negative through your words(Priceless.) RESPECT....

Unknown said...

I'm a member of a diabetes forum, and there is definitely a very steady stream of newbies asking all of those basic questions. Many of them get referred to your site, as it has some of the best explanations around.

what is diabetes

Heather said...


I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?