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Translation Award investigates new therapy to prevent type 1 diabetes

2 May 2012

A project to develop a new therapy for type 1 diabetes launches today at King’s College London with support from a Wellcome Trust Translation Award. The new therapy is designed to target the immune response that underlies the condition and, if successful, could prevent the disease from developing.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body's own immune system attacking and destroying the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood glucose. The result is that the body is no longer able to produce insulin, leading to increased blood glucose levels - which, in turn, can cause serious damage to all organ systems in the body.

There is currently no known cure or effective prevention for type 1 diabetes, and treatment requires multiple daily insulin injections for life.

The team at King's are developing a new drug called MultiPepT1De to counter the immune attack on beta cells while leaving the rest of the immune system intact. The experimental drug is made from a cocktail of short fragments of molecules, known as peptides.

These peptides are involved in the destructive immune response in type 1 diabetes, but the team believe it may be possible to introduce them in a form that switches off this destructive response. This could then 'reset' the immune system, stopping it from attacking the beta cells.

MultiPepT1De is currently being tested in the laboratory, but the team hope to begin clinical trials in 2014.

Professor Mark Peakman from the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, who is leading the project, explained: "MultiPepT1De has some important advantages over current approaches to the prevention of type 1 diabetes, especially its ability to avoid global immune suppression, which is a problem with several other approaches under consideration.

"Peptide immunotherapy is being explored in other diseases, such as allergies and multiple sclerosis, and shows considerable promise and potential for long-lasting effects. We have pinpointed the key peptides involved in type 1 diabetes and are hopeful that this could lead to an effective preventative treatment for children and adults who may be at risk of developing the condition."

The project at King's College London is the culmination of drug discovery efforts in the Department of Immunobiology and will be supported by a Translation Award of £2.3 million from the Wellcome Trust.

Dr Mike Shaw, Director of IP and Licensing at King's, commented: "This new funding enables us to continue progressing efficiently towards positioning the technology for clinical trials. New data emerging from the work together with the suite of intellectual property and patents in which King's has invested for a number of years provides a solid basis from which commercial partners can work with us to see the therapy developed for patient benefit."

Image: A man with diabetes using an injection pen to administer insulin to control his blood glucose level. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

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