Arthritis drug offers potential therapy for Type 1 diabetes

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Pictured above, L to R: Prof Tom Kay (Project Lead), Prof Helen Thomas (Preclinicial Trial Lead), Prof Richard MacIsaac (SVHM Clinical Trial Site Lead)

A Melbourne study has shown that a drug used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis could potentially suppress the progression of Type 1 diabetes in recently diagnosed patients.

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM) was one of the lead Australian hospital sites involved in the first in-human clinical trial to support the research being led by St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI), which is co-located on the hospital’s Fitzroy campus. 

A paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine shared the study’s trial findings, highlighting the drug baricitnib had been shown to safely and effectively preserve the body’s insulin producing cells and slow the advancement of Type 1 diabetes in those who started treatment within 100 days of their diagnosis.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease where the body’s pancreas produces little to no insulin, placing pressure on the pancreas and the body’s other vital organs as glucose levels build up.

There are 130,000 Australians currently living with Type 1 diabetes, with eight more diagnosed every day. 

The therapy investigated in the Bandit study identified its potential to preserve the remaining insulin-producing cells in recently diagnosed patients.

Currently, people with Type 1 diabetes rely on insulin as a form of life-long treatment that is administered through injection or infusion pumps. This form of treatment has been largely unchanged for around 100 years.

The study hopes to eliminate this as a treatment option for some patients, who may potentially be able to take a simple daily tablet instead.

“It is tremendously exciting for us to be the first group anywhere in the world to test efficacy of baricitnib as a potential Type 1 diabetes treatment,” said SVI Director and Project Lead, Professor Tom Kay.

Playing a part in shaping change

Clinical trials involving 91 participants were conducted over a year at four Australian hospitals. Professor Richard MacIsaac, SVHM Director of Endocrinology, led the trial site at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Fitzroy.

Trial participants received the tablet once a day for 48 weeks. The results showed that this form of potential treatment helped to preserve beta cell function in patients and reduced their reliance on insulin.

“Type 1 diabetes can be quite a significant and major diagnosis. For most people, it's a lifelong condition, and it's a condition that takes a lot of time and effort to manage,” said Prof MacIsaac.

Although the research is still at early-stage, the trial findings are hopeful baricitnib could offer the first potential disease-modifying therapy of its kind for Type 1 diabetes.

“This research really puts our St Vincent’s campus right at the forefront as a leader in diabetes research and clinical practice in Australia and internationally,” Prof MacIsaac said.

“It has been fabulous to see the term ‘benchtop-to-bedside’ taken to a new level and to be involved in helping translate this research into a clinical trial that we are hopeful could have a fantastic outcome for people living with Type 1 diabetes.”