Tuesday, August 19, 2014

California Edges Forward with $39 Million Stem Cell Diabetes Effort

California’s $39 million bet on a new stem cell therapy for diabetes today moved a notch ahead today with word that the treatment's developer has received federal approval to begin a clinical trial.

“Very encouraging news” was how the new president of the state stem cell agency, Randy Mills, described the announcement by Viacyte, Inc. “Exciting” was the word used by Jonathan Thomas, chairman in a pressrelease from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the $3 billion agency is formally known. CIRM began financing Viacyte six years ago.

The go-ahead by the FDA was for an early stage trial aimed at testing safety and preliminary efficacy for treatment for type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. While the move is a good sign, only one out of any 10 potential therapies that begin a trial emerges as a full-blown treatment.  That statistic is for ordinary treatments – not therapies based on human embryonic stem cells (hESC). No hESC therapy has ever been commercialized, and they face unique regulatory and financial obstacles.

CIRM’s press release described the treatment like this:
“ViaCyte’s approach uses a thin plastic pouch, containing an immature form of pancreatic cells, to mimic the blood glucose regulating function of the pancreas. When the device is implanted under the skin these cells are designed to become insulin-producing and other cells needed to regulate blood glucose levels. It is believed that these cells will be able to sense when blood glucose is high, and then secrete insulin to restore it to a healthy level.” 
In addition to the news release, the stem cell agency ran a blog item on the announcement, which is useful, since there is more than one audience for the news. The agency did not link to the press release from Viacyte, which noted that the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation also supported the research.

Paul Laikind, president of Viacyte, said in his press release that he was “pleased” by the FDA action.  That was the most ebullient word in the company’s announcement, which focused on the more technical aspects of the potential therapy.

In news coverage, Bradley Fikes of the San Diego U-T wrote that the company has said the treatment could serve as a “virtual cure” for type 1 diabetes, which afflicts more than two million persons in the United States.

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