Breakthrough diabetes research to be commercialised

Professor Ann Simpson, picture by Joanne Saad

Professor Ann Simpson, picture by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • US company PharmaCyte Biotech, Inc (formerly Nuvilex, Inc) has obtained exclusive worldwide rights to use human insulin producing cells developed by UTS's Professor Ann Simpson and her colleagues
  • The cells could eliminate the need for injections for Type 1 diabetics, a milestone in 20 years' research to develop the capacity of liver cells to take over the function of the pancreas

Australian research that has produced a line of insulin producing cells that could eliminate the need for injections for Type 1 diabetics will be commercialised by US company PharmaCyte Biotech, Inc (formerly Nuvilex, Inc).

The clinical-stage biotechnology company has obtained exclusive worldwide rights to use human insulin producing cells, termed "Melligen" cells, developed by UTS's Professor Ann Simpson and her colleagues.

In Type 1 or juvenile-onset diabetes the islet cells have been destroyed by an autoimmune disease.

Professor Simpson has been working over the past 20 years to develop the capacity of liver cells to take over the function of the pancreatic "islet" cells that normally produce insulin in the body and this agreement is a significant milestone for her work.

Professor Simpson began exploring the possibility activating liver cells to take up the role of the pancreas early in her research because of their similar makeup. "When a foetus develops, the liver and the pancreas form from the same endodermal origin," she said.

"I am pleased that after many years of diabetes research at UTS, PharmaCyte Biotech will now be developing this technology for commercialisation to a global market," Professor Simpson said.  "My team and I are excited by the prospect of working with PharmaCyte Biotech to eliminate daily injections for insulin-dependent diabetic patients."

PharmaCyte Biotech will undertake further study of Melligen cells with the goal of encapsulating them using the company's novel and proprietary Cell-in-a-Box® cellulose-based live cell technology. Animal testing will be undertaken to prove the encapsulated cells are capable of producing insulin "on demand" in diabetic animals.

Ultimately encapsulated Melligen cells will be placed into patients with Type 1 diabetes where it is hoped they will function as a form of "bio-artificial pancreas". In laboratory studies, Melligen cells have been shown to respond directly to the amount of glucose in their surroundings.

"This is a disease that affects millions of individuals around the world," said PharmaCyte Biotech's CEO and President, Kenneth L. Waggoner."  Some of the complications diabetics suffer from are eye disease, foot and leg problems, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. These complications can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

"If we are successful, those afflicted with Type 1 diabetes will be freed from depending on daily insulin injections or the use of insulin pumps as well as the constant need to monitor their blood glucose levels and modify their diets."

The announcement of the PharmaCyte Biotech agreement has coincided with the awarding of a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant to Professor Simpson for related work. Over the past 20 years she has received more than $7 million to advance research aimed at reversing Type 1 diabetes by using the liver as a surrogate system to produce insulin.

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