Teplizumab, the type 1 diabetes immunotherapy that made headlines last year, works even better than we first thought. Our Research Communications Manager, Conor McKeever, explains.
Last summer, I wrote about some exciting news that broke at the world’s biggest scientific conference dedicated to diabetes, the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions.
There, researchers from the JDRF-supported TrialNet programme reported that they had managed to delay the development of type 1 diabetes for the first time ever.
By using an immunotherapy drug called teplizumab, a team led by Professor Kevan Herold was able to hold back type 1 by an average of two years in children and adults at high genetic risk.
But now, at this year’s ADA conference, the researchers have gone one better.
They’ve just announced that, one year later, 50 per cent of people treated with teplizumab still haven’t developed type 1 diabetes, compared to 22 per cent of those who were not on teplizumab.
This means that teplizumab has now delayed type 1 diabetes by an average of 35 months – nearly three years!
Clues to teplizumab’s success
The research team also shared some intriguing clues about how teplizumab might prevent type 1 diabetes.
They tested all the participants’ levels of C-peptide both before and after giving the participants teplizumab or a placebo. C-peptide is a measure of how much insulin a person is producing – more C-peptide means more insulin.
Both groups had steady declines in their C-peptide levels before the trial, suggesting they were moving towards a diagnosis of type 1.
But the teplizumab participants’ levels of C-peptide actually went up after they were given the drug, whereas the placebo group’s C-peptide levels kept going down – suggesting teplizumab halted this decline.
And as their C-peptide production went up, the participants on teplizumab also saw an increased number of ‘exhausted’ immune cells – specifically the type of immune cells thought to be behind the attack on insulin-producing beta cells.
JDRF leading the way
Permanently switching off an autoimmune response in humans is something that’s never been done before. But we’re confident that we can achieve it. That’s why JDRF has invested more than £115 million in immune therapy research to date, including supporting teplizumab research for many years.
For example, JDRF co-funded one of the first clinical trials of teplizumab – the results from which enabled this prevention trial to take place.
JDRF also supports TrialNet, a global network of researchers and clinicians, which conducted this trial.
And JDRF has invested in the US company Provention Bio, which is also testing teplizumab in people recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. If successful, this could become the first immune therapy approved for people who have the condition – bringing us one step closer to curing type 1 diabetes.