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Drug helps preserve insulin-producing cells

When people get type 1 diabetes—the less common form of diabetes, affecting one in 375 Americans—their bodies attack and destroy the cells in their body that make insulin (known as beta cells). Patients then face a lieftime of disruptive routines—frequent insulin injections and blood-sugar monitoring—and increased health risks. But a new drug tested in a Yale-led trial has been shown to preserve insulin-producing cells in newly diagnosed type 1 patients, raising hope that the disease's effects could be blunted for some new patients in the future.

The drug, known as teplizumab, was developed by Jeffrey Bluestone at the University of California–San Francisco. In a previous phase of trials, the drug was found to preserve beta cells, but the effect waned after a year. This second round of trials, led by Yale immunologist Kevan Herold, involved giving 52 patients treatment with teplizumab two weeks after their initial diagnosis, and then again one year later.

For 45 percent of patients, the second dose was the charm. "After two years, they'd lost less than ten percent of their beta cell responses," Herold said in a Yale press release.

Herold said that if a planned phase 3 trial leads to FDA approval, it might be given not just to newly diagnosed type 1 patients, but to people who are at high risk of developing the disease. "If approved," Herold said in the release, "this would be the first drug to change the natural course of type 1 diabetes since insulin."

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