Diabetes is now a major epidemic, with 425 million people living with the condition. Luckily, biotech is working on ways to stop it in its tracks.

Not only is it Antibiotic Awareness Week, but today is World Diabetes Day. This year’s theme draws attention to diabetes in women and the right to live a healthy life. The International Diabetes Federation wants to highlight the importance of confronting the disease as a major global health issue, which places a massive burden on healthcare systems – with global spending reaching $727B (€620B).

Diabetes currently affects 425 million people, with 1 in 2 of these currently undiagnosed so unable to be properly treated. Of the 425 million, 199 million are women, who experience problems during pregnancy, with 1 in 6 births affected by hyperglycemia.

I was curious to find out more about the many different ways biotech is standing up to the disease.


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, meaning blood glucose can no longer be regulated. With patients currently having to cope with daily injections, a new, less traumatic approach would gain access to a market predicted to be worth almost $26B (€22B) by 2024.


Cell therapy has the potential to replace the cells damaged by type 1 diabetes, and Evotec and Sanofi have proof-of-concept for their stem cell-derived beta cells.

Evotec and Sanofi Hit the First Milestone for a Diabetes Cell Therapy

Imcyse has developed Imotopes, peptides that stimulate CD4+ T cells to kill immune cells that are attacking the pancreas, to cure type 1 diabetes. It has started a Phase I clinical trial with results expected at the end of 2018, and the company has already received approval for a Phase Ib trial.

Update: Belgian Biotech Starts Human Trials for a Potential Type 1 Diabetes Cure

Neovacs, based in Paris, began work on clinical proof-of-concept for its type 1 diabetes vaccine this year and plans to start clinical development in 2018. The company previously focused on Lupus, and similarities between the two conditions led it to branch out.

UPDATE: From Lupus to a Vaccine for Diabetes Type I? Dates Announced

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is when the body does not use insulin effectively – also known as insulin resistance. The pancreas produces more insulin to make up for this, but it cannot keep up, which leads to hyperglycemia. Glucose begins to build up in the blood, causing cells to be starved of energy, which leads to problems in the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.


Two Swedish biotechs, Betagenon and Baltic Bio, have developed an AMP-activated protein kinase activator, which suppresses energy consumption to restore balance. So far, the candidate has achieved promising results during a Phase IIa study.

Swedish Biotech Team Steps Up in the Fight Against Type 2 Diabetes

Novo Nordisk’s candidate, semaglutide, outperformed Eli Lilly’s dulaglutide during a Phase III trial. Both target GLP-1 – the most coveted type 2 target – but semaglutide controlled glucose levels and better than its rival. Boehringer Ingelheim and Zealand are chasing down Novo with their dual glucagon and GLP-1 agonist, which has started Phase I.

Novo Nordisk’s New Type 2 Diabetes Drug Outperforms Eli Lilly’s

Novartis is testing MorphoSys’ monoclonal antibody in a Phase II trial, to see if it could be used to treat type 2 diabetes. It was developed for the treatment of sarcopenia – age-related loss of skeletal muscle – but its target, myostatin, has been implicated in the prevention of insulin resistance.

Antibody Treatment for Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes enters Phase II


One to watch…

Defymed is developing a ‘BioArtificial Pancreas’ that contains working beta cells to control blood glucose. The device, called Mailpan, replaces lost cells and provides unlimited access to insulin-secreting cells derived from stem cells.

The mechanism by which Devymed’s Mailpan technology controls blood glucose.


And now for something completely different…

A group of Dutch researchers have picked up on the buzz around the microbiome and have tested fecal transplants as a way of replenishing the bacterial diversity, which temporarily improved diabetes symptoms in overweight men.

Dutch Clinical Trial Points to Fecal Transplant as Diabetes Treatment


So, as you can see, biotech is hunting down new and effective treatments for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It is great to see cures and treatments for those already suffering from these conditions in development, as well as preventative measures like vaccines for those at-risk. For the moment, type 1 treatments are lagging behind as the disease is not so well understood. 


Image – ananaline / shutterstock.com; Devymed

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