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A person uses a glucometer to test glucose levels in blood from a lancet-pricked finger.
Managing a chronic autoimmune disease is incredibly burdensome for those diagnosed and their families.
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World-First Human Trial Offers New Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

A commonly prescribed rheumatoid arthritis drug may suppress the progression of type 1 diabetes

St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research
Published:Dec 06, 2023
|2 min read
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Researchers at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in Melbourne have shown that a commonly prescribed rheumatoid arthritis drug can suppress the progression of type 1 diabetes.

The world-first human trial, published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine and led by Thomas Kay, MBBS, PhD, professor and director of SVI, showed that a drug called baricitinib can safely and effectively preserve the body’s own insulin production and suppress the progression of type 1 diabetes in people who initiated treatment within 100 days of diagnosis. “When type 1 diabetes is first diagnosed there is a substantial number of insulin-producing cells still present. We wanted to see whether we could protect the further destruction of these cells by the immune system. We showed that baricitinib is safe and effective at slowing the progression of type 1 diabetes in people who have been recently diagnosed,” said Kay.

This research shows promise as the first disease-modifying treatment of its kind for type 1 diabetes that can be delivered as a tablet.

“It is tremendously exciting for us to be the first group anywhere in the world to test the efficacy of baricitinib as a potential type 1 diabetes treatment,” said Kay. “Up until now, people with type 1 diabetes have been reliant on insulin delivered via injection or infusion pump. Our trial showed that, if started early enough after diagnosis, and while the participants remained on the medication, their production of insulin was maintained. People with type 1 diabetes in the trial who were given the drug required significantly less insulin for treatment.”

Management of the lifelong autoimmune disease is incredibly burdensome on those diagnosed and their families, requiring meticulous glucose monitoring and insulin administration day and night to stay alive. 

Until insulin’s discovery more than 100 years ago, type 1 diabetes was a fatal condition. Despite insulin’s lifesaving role, the therapy itself is potentially dangerous if too much or too little is administered. The condition still comes with long-term complications, including heart attack and stroke, vision impairment, kidney disease, and nerve damage. 

“We are very optimistic that this treatment will become clinically available. This would be a huge step-change in how type 1 diabetes is managed and we believe it shows promise as a fundamental improvement in the ability to control type 1 diabetes,” said Helen Thomas, professor at SVI and preclinical lead on the trial.

- This press release was originally published on the St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research website