What Do Tobacco, Stem Cells and GAD65 Have in Common? Diabetes Research

LATE NEWS: Check out Science Daily article on U of Pennsylvania and McGill U research on metformin as a T-cell growth stimulant, published 6-4-09, after this article was posted: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090603131433.htm

Diabetes is a chronic disease of the pancreas that is characterized by insulin deficiency, inability to metabolize carbohydrates, excessive sugar in bodily fluids, thirst and constant hunger.  It is a serious disease, a lifelong problem once it is established, and can cause a lot of side effects including blindness, loss of limbs and death, if not treated properly.  That’s not a proper medical description, just a note to frame this article. 

It seems from a search of the available information, that much of the current research on diabetes is concentrated on diagnostic issues and the easier administration of insulin, which has always been self-injected by most diabetics who use insulin.  I am sure there are many programs seeking to prevent or cure diabetes, but there seems to be much more being invested in ways to measure blood sugar and ways to administer insulin transdermally without a needle or through the membranes of the nose.  Ads on TV concentrate on lifestyle issues, and there is even a glucose monitor that comes in fashion colors.

Thinking outside the box, Prof Mario Petzoti at the University of Verona (Italy), has published an article in Biotechnology advocating tobacco for the autoimmune type of diabetes, usually called Type 1 (http://www.diabetestab.com/?p=1907).   He is not suggesting that diabetics should start smoking Gauloises or Marlboros, but a genetically modified tobacco plant that contains a strong dose of interleukin 10 (IL10).  “The tobacco plant is fantastic,” Prof Petzoti is quoted as saying, because it is easy to modify and it is easy to grow a whole plant from a single cell.  Not surprisingly, it has attracted the attention of a company not noted for health interests: Philip Morris (NYSE: PM).

Mentioned in the same article is an even more impressive research & clinical effort that is currently in two concurrent Phase III trials, one in Europe and one in the US: Stockholm-based Diamyd Medical AB (Stockholm: DIAM-B.ST or in the US the ADR is OTCQX: DMYDY, http://www.diamyd.com/).  The Stockholm quote is in Swedish currency, but the ADR closed yesterday at US$13.44, at the upper end of its 52-week range, reflecting optimism regarding its vaccine that the company claims has been proven to “significantly slow down the disease process.”  ADR volume is quite low and irregular, but since it is sponsored by the Bank of New York Mellon, one assumes that a bid would get filled with newly converted ADRs at some point.  Diamyd has operations in the US, and the US comprises at least half of the projected world market for its vaccine.

Privately held Charlottesville, VA-based DiaKine Therapeutics Inc is set to proceed with tests of its drug, Lisofylline (LSF), which has been shown in animals to prevent diabetes, and to reverse it when administered with a growth hormone (http://www.vabio.org/diakine-diabetes-drug-set-for-human-clinical-trials/).  The trials are being conducted under an IND approved in early May.

Some stem-cell researchers are focusing on diabetes, now that the new US administration has loosened the strictures on stem cells.  BresaGen, which is part of San Diego-based Novocell, has changed its focus from Parkinson’s to diabetes, at least partly because the end points are easier to define.  http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/05/17/upclose05171.html

Dr Denise Faustman at Harvard believes she may have a drug to cure many Type 1 diabetics, based on work in mice. http://www.fumento.com/biotech/diabetes.html  There are 850,000 to 1.7 million people in the US with Type 1 diabetes.  Dr Faustman’s work centers on adult stem cells found in the spleen, long thought to be a superfluous organ, which, she believes, can be stimulated by injecting drugs that release tumor necrosis factor, a protein that has been shown to be helpful in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Also from Stockholm, privately held iNovacia AB (http://www.inovacia.se/index.htm)  has partnered with privately held Glucox Biotech (http://www.glucoxbiotech.se/)  to develop a drug to help Type 2 (“adult onset”) diabetics regulate their insulin by increasing glucose uptake in muscle, which improves insulin response.  Type 2 is a far larger market with an estimated 23 million people affected in the US.

Carmel, IN-based privately held Marcadia Biotech (http://marcadiabiotech.com/news.html)  was founded in 2005 to help obese people deal with diabetes and other metabolic diseases. In these stimulus-oriented days, the local paper took a “show me the money” look at Marcadia (http://marcadiabiotech.com/images/Startuphelp_051908.pdf), wondering if Indiana can become a hub for biotech investing. 

Meanwhile on the pure research front, the University of Lund (also Sweden) and the Swiss firm, Novartis (NYSE: NVS), have completed a genome map of genes related to Type 2 diabetes and related metabolic disorders.  http://www.biotech-weblog.com/50226711/the_diabetes_genetics_initiative.php


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