(RxWiki News) For type 1 diabetes patients, daily insulin injections are a lifelong commitment. But these patients may soon be able to better manage their disease — with the help of a medication used to treat psoriasis.
This medication also helped preserve function in pancreatic beta cells for up to two years. Beta cells secrete insulin (the hormone which regulates blood sugar).
“The two-year results are remarkable because we observed ongoing preservation of [insulin] secretion 15 months after treatment cessation,” said study author Mario R. Ehlers, MD, PhD, in a press release.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's T cells destroy the beta cells in the pancreas. T cells are part of the immune system.
Once the beta cells are destroyed, insulin production stops. Patients with type 1 diabetes must then take injectable insulin to survive.
Alefacept works by specifically targeting T cells. It was formerly only a medication used to treat adults with plaque psoriasis (a skin condition).
Dr. Ehlers and team gave 33 newly-diagnosed diabetes patients two courses of alefacept. An additional 16 patients were given a placebo. All patients were then followed for two years.
Although previous studies found that other medications could help preserve beta cell function, alefacept is the first medication to have long-lasting effects.
Alefacept also has fewer dangerous side effects than other medications, according to Dr. Ehlers and team.
A secondary benefit of alefacept was that patients who took it needed less insulin.
They were also less likely to develop severe low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) — a common complication of diabetes.
“Moreover, compared to the placebo group, the patients who received alefacept had significantly lower insulin requirements and a significant 50 percent reduction in major hypoglycemic events — even after 2 years," Dr. Ehlers and colleagues wrote. "This is important because frequent hypoglycemia is a common and serious complication in this disease.”
This study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Astellas (which manufactures alefacept) funded this research.
Several authors disclosed possible conflicts of interest. Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Novartis, Omni BioPharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca were among the pharmaceutical companies who funded this research. These companies make medications or other products used in the treatment of diabetes.
Study author Peter A. Gottlieb, MD, also holds a patent for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.