At a glance: Latest research into Type 1 diabetes

What’s going on? The new year has kicked off with the usual spate of PR campaigns to encourage Britons to lose weight – but there has also been some interesting recent news on diabetes. It’s very early days, but after ten years of development, scientists at Bristol University and King’s College London last month announced they were to test a new vaccine on humans to cure Type 1 diabetes in 2005.

This is ‘early onset’ diabetes?

It affects children and young adults, yes. The body stops making insulin so treatment to control blood glucose level is a mixture of insulin injections and a healthy diet. One in 250 Brits will develop Type 1 diabetes at some stage.

In pharma terms, what’s on the market at present?

There are, essentially, five types of insulin: rapid-acting, longer-acting and three mixtures of the two. These come in bottles, cartridges or pre-filled pens. The market for rapid-acting products, for example, includes Lilly’s Humalog range, Novorapid and Levemin from Novo Nordisk, and Aventis’s Lantus brand.

So will insulin manufacturers’ PROs now be scurrying to create education campaigns?

There is clearly scope for work to reinforce the efficacy of their brands to professional and consumer audiences in the light of this announcement. True, insulin is the only game in town and likely to remain so for at least a decade yet. Even if all the research succeeds, a vaccine against Type 1 diabetes is unlikely to be available before 2015, but they cannot afford to stand still now.

What are the chances of a cure?

Caution is the watchword. But the new vaccine involves the injection of a protein which stops the body destroying the insulin-producing cells. And anything that offers a cure is nothing short of the ‘holy grail’ of diabetes research.

Powerful stuff. Who said that?

Diabetes UK head of research Georgina Slack. The research is part-funded by her organisation, but so far the vaccine has only been successfully tested on mice.

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