Diabetes, Cancer Organizations Launch $10 Million Research Effort

Diabetes, Cancer Organizations Launch $10 Million Research Effort

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, JDRF, and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust have announced the launch of a $10 million research initiative focused on discovering links between certain cancer treatments and insulin-dependent diabetes.

While immunotherapy has become first-line treatment for several types of cancer, researchers have discovered that some patients develop autoimmune disorders after treatment. According to research published in the journal Diabetes, roughly 1 percent of patients who receive treatment with checkpoint inhibitors develop a kind of insulin-dependence similar to type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disorder affecting some 1.25 million people in the United States in which insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells are mistakenly destroyed by the body's immune system and the pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels.

The collaboration will support autoimmunity research over three years, with the goal of understanding, predicting, and preventing insulin-dependent diabetes following checkpoint therapy for cancer. Research could reveal important knowledge of the causes of T1D in the general population and potential alternative treatments.

"The clinical success of immune checkpoint inhibitors such as ipilimumab, nivolumab, and pembrolizumab has changed the face of cancer therapy, extending lives of patients who previously had few choices. In rare cases, these patients develop insulin-dependent diabetes, and nobody truly understands how or why," said Parker Institute president and CEO Jeffrey Bluestone, who also serves as the A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor of Metabolism and Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. "In putting together this research initiative, we hope to answer key questions that will help us predict and prevent autoimmunity following immunotherapy treatment in the future....This is of increasing importance as more patients are being treated with checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapies."

"This collaboration combines leading experts in diabetes and cancer immunology to accomplish a feat that has never been achieved: permanently turning off an autoimmune response in humans," said JDRF president and CEO Aaron J. Kowalski. "Investing in this research will help us better understand, in real time, how type 1 diabetes develops and potentially disable the immune system so that disease progression never happens."