Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"All In' -- Good News for California's $56 Million Investment in Search for Diabetes Cure

A $56 million bet by the state of California on a diabetes cure is showing additional promise that it will ultimately pay off.

The latest indication came last week when Big Pharma’s Johnson & Johnson went “all in” on ViaCyte, Inc., which has received $56 million from the California stem cell agency during the last 11 years, surpassing the amount that UC Berkeley has been awarded during the same period.

J&J has already pumped $20 million into the San Diego firm, which is conducting a clinical trial for a virtual cure for type 1 diabetes. The effort is showing promising results, according to the stem cell agency.

Last week, in a sign that ViaCyte has was moving along nicely,  J&J turned over its Janssen BetaLogics group to ViaCyte.

BetaLogics was a competitor to ViaCyte and a hedging ploy by J&J.  Business columnist John Carroll of Fierce Biotech described the merger of the two as a major commitment by Johnson. He wrote: 

“J&J goes all in with ViaCyte.”

Carroll reported,

"'We needed to hedge our bet to make sure that we would be the leaders in this space,' says Diego Miralles, J&J's global head of innovation in San Diego. ‘It's clear that ViaCyte has pulled ahead.’”

Randy Mills, president of the $3 billion stem cell agency, said in a news release that “the latest clinical data from ViaCyte are very encouraging and a clear sign of progress.”

The company has been working for years on its product, which is based on human embryonic stem cells. The treatment involves insertion of a tiny device beneath the skin of a patient to produce  insulin when needed.

Linda Johnson of The Associated Press wrote,

"'This one is potentially the real deal,' said Dr. Tom Donner, director of the diabetes center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 'It's like making a new pancreas that makes all the hormones' needed to control blood sugar.

"Donner, who is not involved in the research, said if the device gives patients normal insulin levels, 'it's going to prevent millions of diabetics from getting dangerous complications.'"

Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at UC Davis, wrote on his blog that the J&J move was “great news” for ViaCyte. He said the folding of BetaLogics and recent results from the phase one clinical trial “solidify ViaCyte’s leadership.” Knoepfler also is not involved with the ViaCyte research.

Before the therapy can be marketed widely, it must clear both a phase two and phase three trial, which could take a few years.

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