New immunotherapy treatment shows promise in first clinical trial

Posted on 10 August 2017

Researchers from King’s College London and Cardiff University have tested a new immunotherapy treatment for safety. The trial, which was partly funded by JDRF, indicated that the treatment was safe and suggests that it could preserve beta cell function in people living with type 1 diabetes.

Why did they do this trial?

Mark Peakman
Professor Mark Peakman

Type 1 diabetes develops because the immune system inappropriately attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. One way of protecting beta cells would be to re-train the immune system to prevent it from attacking the beta cells. Treatments that alter the behaviour of the immune system in this way are known as immunotherapy.

Professor Mark Peakman and his team worked to develop a protein-based immunotherapy treatment, named MonoPepT1De. The aim of this trial was primarily to assess the safety of the treatment in people living with type 1 diabetes, but the researchers were also looking out for signs that the treatment was working the way they hoped.

What did they do?

The team recruited 27 adult volunteers who had received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes within 100 days of starting the trial. The participants were split into three groups: two groups were given the treatment injection either every two weeks, or every four weeks, while the final group were given a placebo. The trial lasted six months. The researchers checked whether the treatment was safe, and also measured the amount of insulin the participants’ beta cells were able to produce , every three months for a year.

What did they find?

MonoPepT1De was safe to use, and appeared to preserve beta cell function. Participants receiving the treatment every four weeks did not experience a notable decrease in insulin production over the year, and they did not need to increase their injected insulin use across the year.

The placebo group’s insulin production meanwhile decreased across the year, and they needed to inject 50% more insulin every day by the end of the year. This suggests that those not taking the treatment were losing beta cells at a faster rate than those receiving the treatment.

What does this mean for type 1?

These results indicate that not only is MonoPepT1De safe, but it could delay the progression of type 1 diabetes. In the longer-term, if developed into a treatment, this could mean that those with a very new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes could protect their remaining beta cells for longer and require less insulin over time. It is also a step along the path to a preventative treatment, which would mean those at risk of type 1 diabetes never develop the condition at all.

Chief Executive of JDRF Karen Addington said: “Exciting immunotherapy research like this increases the likelihood that one day insulin-producing cells can be protected and preserved. That would mean people at risk of type 1 diabetes might one day need to take less insulin, and perhaps see a future where no one would ever face daily injections to stay alive.”

What’s the next step?

Since the treatment has been shown to be safe, the next step will be to conduct further clinical trials with more participants to better establish how effective the treatment is in preserving beta cell function and insulin production in people living with type 1 diabetes.

Rachel Connor, our UK Director of Research Partnerships, was on BBC Breakfast on Thursday morning discussing the MonoPepT1De trial. If you have a TV licence you can view the clip on the BBC iPlayer. The segment was on just before 09:00: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0905mlh

Researcher with microscope

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