Discovering designer drugs for diabetes

A potential new treatment for type 2 diabetes has multiple, positive effects on health and metabolism in mice, reports a study in Nature.

The new drug might have potential for treating a variety of disorders in addition to type 2 diabetes, such as muscle atrophy, although clinical trials in humans are needed.

The research was led by Monash University’s Mark Febbraio and collaborators – including Professor Damien Keating and Dr Emily Sun from Flinders University.

An estimated 370 million people currently live with type 2 diabetes, and the figure is predicted to double by 2030. Although the disease can be managed with drugs, there is currently no therapy to halt or reverse its progression.

In this study features from two molecules were combined —interleukin-6 (IL-6) and ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF)—which are known to improve insulin resistance and modify food intake and body weight, to create a new, designer molecule called IC7Fc.

When tested in obese mice, the drug lowers blood glucose levels and prevents the build-up of lipids in the liver. The mice also eat less and lose weight while maintaining or increasing muscle mass.

Professor Damien Keating. Deputy Director, Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute.

On their own, the ‘parent’ drugs that IC7Fc is derived from have adverse effects that preclude their clinical development.

However, IC7Fc displays no obvious side effects in mice and non-human primates. In light of these positive results, the authors now intend to progress to Phase I human clinical trials.

“This development of a compound that targets multiple immune receptors is an extremely innovative approach to treating human metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity, and one that we were very pleased to be involved in,” says Professor Keating.

“The next step of course will be to test this approach in humans and try to address this significant health burden, and the potential for this approach is very exciting.”


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College of Medicine and Public Health