Researchers have discovered that a skin drug used for psoriasis seems to maintain insulin production in the bodies of people recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The drug also helped cut the number of hypoglycemic events, according to researchers.
In a Phase II clinical trial, researchers with the National Institute of Health gave either the drug alefacept or a placebo to 49 people with Type 1 diabetes for two 12-week periods, with a 12-week “rest” period in between. Alefacept was originally designed to curb the body’s autoimmune reaction that causes psoriasis, and researchers wondered if it could rein in T-cells from attacking pancreatic function in people with Type 1 diabetes, as well.
The goal was to see if the drug could boost insulin production 2 hours after the T1 participants ate food. While trial results failed to meet that goal, researchers did find that the drug seemed to boost insulin production significantly in T1 participants 4 hours after a meal. It wasn’t just a short-term benefit, either; a year after treatment started, those who took the drug didn’t have to up their insulin dose, while those who took the placebo did. And during that time, those who took alefacept had fewer bouts of hypoglycemia, as well.
In an interview with a National Institute of Health news outlet, lead researcher Dr. Mark Rigby of the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis said alefacept was successful in increasing the T-cells that protect the pancreas and decreasing the T-cells that attack beta cell production in people who had been recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Next up will be studies that will confirm the results and test whether the drug can help a wider demographic of T1 patients.
The drug didn’t seem to show any significant side effects. Marketed as Amevive, alefacept has been approved by the FDA for treating psoriasis, but has not been approved by regulators in the European Union. The drugmaker, Astellas Pharma US, says it discontinued selling the drug for marketing reasons.
This isn’t the first time an immune-suppressing drug earmarked for another condition has shown promise in extending the so-called “honeymoon” period for those recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. A study recently found the defunct cancer drug teplizumab also helped maintain insulin production (see “Zombie Drug May Help Type 1 Children”).
The results of the study on alefacept were first reported in the medical journal the Lancet in September 2013.
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