JDRF researchers in the US have found that Alefacept, a psoriasis drug that targets the immune system, could help keep insulin-producing cells safe in people with type 1 diabetes.
The results come from a two-year clinical trial of the drug in people who were newly diagnosed with type 1. The same team previously reported encouraging results in 2013 but now, 15 months after the last dose of Alefacept, people who were given the drug needed to take less insulin day-to-day, and had higher levels of a protein called C-peptide – a by-product of insulin production – in their blood, than people given a placebo.
This suggests they were making more of their own insulin than people who did not take Alefacept, despite both groups having had type 1 for more than two years.
When the researchers compared the levels of immune cells between the two groups, people who had taken Alefacept had higher levels of cells that regulate the immune system, and lower levels of cells that are known to attack the pancreas in type 1.
Taken together, it appears the drug helped keep insulin-producing cells healthy by altering the immune system, reducing its ability to attack.
Dr Gerald Nepom, director of the Immune Tolerance Network, which conducted the trial, is cautiously optimistic about the next stage of the research: ‘Achieving long-term benefit following a short course of therapy is a challenging goal.’
‘detailed analysis of the immune cell types in the blood of those who responded to the treatment will help us identify the best way to improve this type of immune therapy for people with type 1 diabetes and potentially other autoimmune conditions’
Dr Anna Clarke, Health Promotion and Research Manager at Diabetes Ireland says ‘this is really promising as the drug is currently in use so already deemed to be safe. Any development that helps us understand how people respond to a therapy that alters the immune system, could create new treatment approaches and make a cure or vaccine for Type 1 diabetes one step closer’.
The results were published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation