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Exciting research could provide hope for autoimmune condition

Posted by
Colin Ewen, Patient Value Unit - New Medicines
We often think about Diabetes as a purely metabolic condition.  Type 1 diabetes is however an inflammatory condition, caused by an autoimmune reaction to a person’s own organs, in this case the pancreas.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) accounts for around 10% of all diabetes cases and is characterised by a lack of insulin production in the pancreas. This occurs because the immune system kills the cells in the pancreas that make insulin.

There is currently no cure for Type 1 diabetes, and patients are treated by administering insulin to control their blood glucose levels.  Over many years, poor glucose control can lead to severe complications such as kidney, nerve and eye disease.

UCB’s commitment to addressing the unmet needs of patients suffering from severe diseases and our  expertise in immunology has led us to start research into T1 and since December 2014, we have been collaborating with Professor Mark Peakman of King’s College London to test a potential new diabetes therapy which could halt/slow down the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

The new potential therapy, called Multipeptide, is based on an area of research referred to as “peptide immunotherapy”.  Multipeptide uses fragments of proteins to stop the body attacking the cells that produce insulin. It aims to tolerize or ‘switch off’ the inflammation and thereby prevent further damage to the pancreas.

The hope is that the person receiving this treatment will not deteriorate further, and thus avoid or delay long-term complications such as deterioration in kidney function or eyesight.  This hope has led some to refer to this next generation of immunotherapy as  "therapeutic vaccines".

When we think of vaccines, we usually think of prevention. For example, they prevent us from catching infectious diseases such as measles or whooping cough which are caused by viruses or bacteria, by preparing the body to make antibodies to the virus/bacteria. But in this case, a therapeutic vaccine could be used to halt the deterioration of a disease by stopping immune cells producing antibodies that are targeting the bodies’ own proteins.

In the future we hope to better characterize this new potential therapy and the effects it has on patients suffering from T1D.  For now, we are in the earliest stages of a clinical trial to be conducted on a small number of patients at Guy’s Hospital London.

The new immunotherapy treatment was developed by researchers at King’s College London backed by funding from the Wellcome Trust, and is being taken forward in partnership with UCB.

While it is still early days, we are hugely excited about this collaboration. It demonstrates our willingness to work with partners to solve some of the biggest health challenges facing the world – and it keeps us at the cutting edge of immunology.

It is the latest example of what we mean when we say we are Inspired by Patients. Driven by Science.

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