People with type 1 diabetes could benefit from treatment with a drug previously used to treat a skin disorder, according to promising new research published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.
Alefacept (marketed as Amevive) was used in various counties to treat moderate to severe cases of the autoimmune skin disorder psoriasis it was removed from the market by its manufacturer in 2011.
Now researchers in the US believe the medication could have a positive effect on people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, with results from a small trial suggesting it aids insulin production in the body.
The trial, which is ongoing, involved 33 patients receiving weekly injections of alefacept for 12 weeks, followed by a break of 12 weeks, and then a further 12 weeks of treatment.
After comparing the patients participants were given placebo injections (control group), the researchers, led by a team at Indiana University, Indianapolis, found “significant differences” between the two groups in how well the pancreas produced insulin four hours after eating. At this point, the alefacept treatment group were able to preserve insulin production while levels of the blood sugar-regulating hormone in the placebo group decreased.
After 12 months, the researchers noted that insulin use increased significantly among the placebo group, but not with the alefacept group. The latter also experienced lesshypos (episodes of low blood glucose), a common problem for type 1 diabetes patients.
Lead researcher Professor Mark Rigby said the differences in several key secondary endpoints between the treatment groups suggests that alefacept “might preserve pancreas cell function during the first 12 months after diagnosis”, and could thus be used “to stabilise type 1 diabetes and prevent its progression”.
Karen Addingto, chief executive of JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity that helped fund the study, commented: “The results of this study appear worthy of further exploration. Small steps forward such as this take us closer to a world without type 1 diabetes.”
Prof Rigby added that the trial would continue to see what effects alefacept has on production after 18 months and 24 months.

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