The development of type 1 diabetes has been delayed by at least a year in high-risk individuals by a new drug, according to new research.
The drug teplizumab works by changing the immune system’s white blood cells responsible for killing insulin-producing beta cells. It is the immune system’s attack on the beta cells that characterises type 1 diabetes.
Teplizumab treatment over 14 days decreased the rate of type 1 diabetes in those at high risk of the condition by half.
The study involved 76 participants aged between 8-49 years deemed to be at high risk of the condition. Risk status was determined due to having relatives with the condition and tests revealing autoantibodies relating to type 1 diabetes as well as higher than normal blood glucose levels.
Forty-four randomly assigned participants took teplizumab and 32 took a placebo. A total of 43% of those taking teplizumab developed type 1 diabetes, compared with 72% who took a placebo.
In those that developed type 1 diabetes, the researchers looked at the length of time it took for the condition to develop. In those taking teplizumab, the median average for developing type 1 was 48.4 months, compared to a shorter time of 24.4 months for those taking placebo.
The drug’s performance was even greater in the first year, with just 7% of people taking the drug developing the condition, compared to 44% from the placebo group.
Researchers speculate that a further round of the drug could delay the condition further but are also wary of its long-term use due to fears it might impact the immune system too much.
Participants reported temporarily low levels of lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell, with other side effects including rashes.
Yale University’s Dr Kevan Herold was the lead researcher in the trial. He said: “After repeated failures, this is the first time anyones been able to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes. The rate of development of diabetes was reduced by half.”
The drug is being developed by Provention Bio Inc, with the study funded by the National Institutes of Health as well as JDRF.
The study was published by The New England Journal of Medicine. The results have also been presented to delegates at the American Diabetes Association meeting, which has been taking place in San Francisco from Friday, June 7, to Tuesday, June 11.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Clifford Rosen, who is from the Maine Medical Center Research Institute together with journal deputy editor Dr Julie Ingelfinger said: “We can finally say that there has been substantial progress in modulating the early course of type 1 diabetes.”
Further studies will now be required to test the drug before it is approved.