Immunotherapy for diabetes being trialled in London

A new treatment for Type 1 diabetes is being evaluated in a phase I clinical trial at Guy's Hospital in London. Developed with Wellcome Trust Innovations funding, the new therapy, called MultiPepT1De, targets the autoimmune attack that leads to the development of the condition.

Colour-enhanced electron micrograph of part of a pancreas cell showing the  nucleus (blue), mitochondria (orange), a lysosome (red) and rough  endoplasmic reticulum  (green).

Credit: University of Edinburgh, Wellcome Images

Colour-enhanced electron micrograph of part of a pancreas cell showing the nucleus (blue), mitochondria (orange), a lysosome (red) and rough endoplasmic reticulum (green).

Type 1 diabetes affects over 400,000 people in the UK. It is caused by the body's immune system turning against insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (called 'beta cells'). Without insulin, the body cannot maintain normal blood sugar levels, which over the long term can cause damage to vital organs including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.

MultiPepT1De is intended to slow the progression of the disease by 'switching off' the autoimmune attack, and hopefully preventing further destruction of the pancreatic cells. In laboratory testing it was shown to be more powerful than a first generation treatment trialled last year, and is designed to benefit a higher proportion of those with Type 1 diabetes than its predecessor (called MonoPepT1De). 

Professor Mark Peakman, Principal Investigator at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), said: "We are really looking forward to seeing the results from this new trial. What we are doing is a big step forward in precision medicine, taking a set of patients with a particular disease and genetic background and giving them an immunotherapy designed in the laboratory specifically for them. Obviously we will need to wait until we have the full results of the trial before we know if it is successful but at this stage we are hopeful."

Dr Stephen Caddick, Director of Innovations at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Type 1 diabetes is a very serious condition that normally requires lifelong treatment with insulin therapy, but this promising new form of 'immunotherapy' could be set to change that. By retraining the immune system to prevent it from attacking insulin-producing cells, it may be possible to slow progression of the disease or even stop it in its tracks. If this approach is proved successful in larger studies it has the potential to transform the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes."

MultiPepT1De is based on an area of study called peptide immunotherapy, which is currently being applied to a number of other diseases, including allergies and multiple sclerosis.

It was developed with funding from a Wellcome Trust Translation Award by researchers at King's College London, working in the NIHR BRC at Guy's and St Thomas' and King's College London.

The treatment will be trialled on 24 people with Type 1 diabetes by autumn 2016 and the study team is hopeful of positive results that build upon their previous findings showing that the first generation of MultiPepT1De, called MonoPepT1De, is safe and well tolerated, with some evidence of positive effects in T1D patients.