ViaCyte starts diabetes trial

ViaCyte is developing a drug delivery system that enables implanted pancreatic progenitor cells to survive and differentiate into functioning insulin-producing islet cells.

Correction: The number to call for more information on the diabetes clinical trial is 858-657-7039. An incorrect number was originally provided.)

ViaCyte has started a clinical trial of its diabetes treatment derived from stem cells, the first such treatment ever tested in people.

UC San Diego said Tuesday it is hosting the Phase 1 trial in partnership with San Diego-based ViaCyte. The biotech company grows islet cells from human embryonic stem cells. The cells are placed into a semi-permeable envelope and implanted into the patient. In animals, the stem cells mature into islet cells, successfully controlling blood sugar.

The treatment could provide what the company calls a virtual cure for Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a lack of insulin-producing "islet" cells in the pancreas. About 40 people are being sought for the trial. Those interested should call Todd May at 858-657-7039.

Success would not only provide a tremendous boost for the privately held biotech company, but also California's stem cell agency, which has provided nearly $40 million in funding.

The agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is scheduled to vote Wednesday on approving a recommended $16.6 million for ViaCyte to help with clinical trials. CIRM will eventually have to get more money as the $3 billion approved by California voters under Prop. 71 in 2004 is used up.

Paul Laikind, CEO of ViaCyte, which is making a treatment for diabetes from human embryonic stem cells.

The ViaCyte trial's goals are to assess safety and whether the cells are actually making insulin, said Paul Laikind, ViaCyte's chief executive. A longer-term goal is to determine if the cells made other hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. These are glucagon, which in contrast to insulin raises blood sugar levels, and somatostatin, which regulates both insulin and glucagon.

If the full array of hormones are produced, it's hoped that ViaCyte's product will perform like a natural pancreas, Laikind said. While the trial is starting at UCSD, Laikind said the company intends to expand it to other centers.

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ViaCyte starts diabetes trial

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