Quick reaction to milestone ViaCyte data on a diabetes patient

ViaCyte released encouraging data just now on a patient with implanted stem cell-derived pancreas-like device whose diabetes improved. You can read more about this in the Endpoints piece that I linked to in the previous sentence.

ViaCyte’s VC-01 device stained post-implant. Image from the firm.

Stem cells for diabetes; the ViaCyte update

The idea of stem cells for diabetes has been more on my mind in part because I did a piece earlier this week on the topic. For more on this research check out my post from a few days ago. It also says a bit more about the ViaCyte approach and competitors.

In a nutshell, the new data point to not a cure, but a treatment in this form. Endpoints quoted a few different scientists:

“It’s actually very impressive — I was not impressed by their first trial, but this is a major improvement,” Camillo Ricordi, director of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, told Endpoints News. “It’s a critical first step, it shows that they can work.”

Jeanne Loring was a little less excited:

“I would think it’s not having enough of an effect,” Jeanne Loring, a professor emeritus at Scripps Research, told Endpoints.

Loring, who helped found Viacyte and 1998 and maintains a modicum of stock, said the results were good but unsurprising. “With any of these cell replacement therapies, the wish is to have a complete cure,” she added, “but at least until they get better, it is likely to just reduce the need for insulin.”

Looking ahead

Who would have predicted this, but I’m a bit more with Ricordi on this one in terms of it being an exciting milestone even if the data are so limited and the effect wasn’t a homerun.

Still it’s only one patient so we have to be somewhat cautionary. Data from far more patients will be needed to see how consistent the ViaCyte approach turns out to be. It’s likely it won’t work for everyone.

It’s also possible that the firm can continue to improve the product in pursuit of a cure for some patients. However, even without an actual cure, a substantial reduction in the amount of insulin needed for many patients could be transformative.

There’s growing competition in this space, which is good for patients.

3 thoughts on “Quick reaction to milestone ViaCyte data on a diabetes patient”

  1. I agree this is an important proof of concept. The results seem good. Anyone who has had to manage Type 1 Diabetes would be happy to have their burden reduced, even if it could not be eliminated. The major downside remains the need for immunosuppression. I’m very curious to see how Viacyte’s new encapsulation device performs.

  2. Hi Paul-
    I didn’t mean to sound not enthusiastic- I’m just a little more in the thick of things, going back many many years. Realistically, the fact that the cells survived is pleasing but not astounding.

    I just want to keep titrating people’s hopes against the scientific challenges.

    Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and Viacyte hoped to keep the cells isolated from the immune system. The reality is that their approach to that ideal didn’t work, so this work is a compromise.

    I’m thinking now that Type I diabetes might be a good candidate for testing the idea that genetically modifying cells to make them invisible to the immune system might do more good than harm.

    As you know, my choice to develop an autologous therapy for PD is rooted in the desire to avoid immunosuppression to prevent rejection. That is not a simple fix for autoimmune diseases like T1D. But I still feel uncomfortable about the genetic modifications that will remove the immune surveillance that kills off nascent tumors and viral-infected cells.

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