New Clinical Trial Repurposes Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug for T1D

Last week Bloomberg News reported on a Phase II clinical trial that is testing whether an FDA-approved rheumatoid arthritis drug can be repurposed to delay or halt the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Benaroya Research Institute in Seattle is leading the trial to see if Roche’s drug Actemra, known by the generic name tocilizumab (TCZ), can stop the body from destroying insulin-producing beta cells. TCZ is currently used to combat the autoimmune response in rheumatoid arthritis. It inhibits a component of the immune system called IL-6, which may also stop the T1D autoimmune attack on beta cells.

If successful, TCZ alone would not be a Practical Cure for established diabetics, in our view, because it would require a significant amount of functioning beta cells in the body. However, if one of the research projects that aims to produce a sustainable supply of beta cells proves successful, this could potentially be combined with TCZ to result in a Practical Cure. 

Some Highlights:

  • TCZ is already approved for arthritis patients as young as age 2. Clinical trials for T1D application can therefore skip directly to the Phase II stage.
  • Phase II testing commenced in February 2015. However, recruitment is ongoing for adults recently diagnosed with T1D, according to Dr. Carla Greenbaum, the Principal Investigator.  
  • The study completion date is August 2018. 
  • The multi-center study is currently recruiting at Benaroya, UCSF, Stanford University, Indiana University, Columbia University, Sanford Research Center, and Vanderbilt University. Recruiting is scheduled but not yet underway at the University of Florida, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. Travel funds to sites within the U.S. may be available.