June 28, 2011 (San Diego) -- The experimental drug teplizumab shows promise for delaying the progression of type 1 diabetes in people newly diagnosed with it, researchers say.
In a study of 513 patients with type 1 diabetes, the drug failed to reach its primary goal of substantially improving blood sugar control and reducing the amount of insulin needed.
But teplizumab appeared to preserve the function of the body's own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, reports Nicole Sherry, MD, director of the diabetes center at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.
"Preserving your own beta cell function is far better than relying on insulin [injections or a pump]," says Kevan Herold, MD, a Yale University endocrinologist who is heading another study of teplizumab.
"Beta cells make the right amount of insulin at the right place and the right time," he tells WebMD. "They turn it off when you don't need it, and turn it on when you do need it."
Sherry and Herold reporting being consultants to MacroGenics, which is developing teplizumab.
The findings were simultaneously reported online in The Lancet and here at the American Diabetes Association meeting.
Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
The study involved people ages 8 to 35 who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes no more than 12 weeks before entering the study.
Patients were given infusions of either placebo or of one of three regimens of teplizumab. After six months, the treatment was repeated.
After one year, a similar percentage of people in each group -- about 20% -- had better blood sugar control and needed less insulin. But 5% of participants who received teplizumab no longer needed insulin at the end of one year, compared to none of those who received a placebo, Sherry says.
Further researched showed that 40% of patients who received the highest dose of the drug had better beta cell preservation, compared with 28% of those in the placebo group.
Younger patients, especially children ages 8 to 11, experienced the greatest gains in beta cell function, she says.