Type 1 diabetes drug tested in children ‘may stop disease’

A groundbreaking drug that delays the onset of type 1 diabetes has been tested on British children and doctors say it could stop the life-threatening condition entirely.

It is hoped that teplizumab will become widely available in the UK next year after the final ‘phase three’ trials are completed. The drug can keep the disease at bay for several years, and more research is underway to see if it can completely prevent diabetes.

Over 400,000 people in the UK have type 1 diabetes, including 29,000 children. This is because the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to control blood sugar levels.

Teplizumab is considered one of the biggest breakthroughs in the treatment of type 1 diabetes since the discovery of life-saving artificial insulin 100 years ago. Despite insulin injections, patients still suffer complications and may die due to poor control of their disease.

Common problems include eye and kidney damage requiring either dialysis or transplantation.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the drug in patients over eight years of age.

In the UK, the National Institutes of Health and Health is expected to be reviewing US data with a view to approving the drug next year.

US data showed that the drug curbed the need for artificial insulin for up to three years. In some patients, the delay was longer.

Cardiff-based diabetologist Professor Colin Dayan, who led the UK trial of the drug in children, hopes the new drugs could eventually contain the disease entirely. He said, “It’s so exciting and definitely just the beginning.”

The children in the UK study were given the £168,000 drug intravenously over 30 minutes for 12 days. None had serious side effects other than a mild rash or flu-like symptoms.

Professor Dayan said: “These are exciting times. Insulin was amazing, saving lives where, before its discovery, death was almost inevitable.

“For years we have been looking for the next step – and now it looks like we have it.

“If we can keep the need for insulin at bay for a few years, and maybe longer, then we are helping young people lead normal lives in the important years of growing up.”

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