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[IP] Seen this today..
Diabetes Cure May Cost Drug Companies Billions
By Matthew Herper
Of the estimated 10 million people in the U.S. who suffer from diabetes,
about 5% to 10% of them are dependent on daily shots of insulin to keep
their blood sugar levels from becoming dangerously high.
A new treatment being developed by doctors at the University of Alberta may
eliminate insulin-dependent diabetes in the next decade. Assuming it's
perfected, it will save patients but may devastate the multibillion-dollar
human insulin market.
Human insulin is an important product for some drug companies. Market leader
Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY - news) made 13% of its $10 billion in 1999 sales from
the sale of human insulin. Denmark-based Novo Nordisk (NYSE: NVO - news)
sold $1.6 billion worth of insulin products globally last year.
But a new treatment turns the liver into an insulin-generating organ, a sort
of jury-rigged pancreas. The treatment is described by a team doctors at the
University of Alberta in the next issue of the New England Journal of
Medicine. If it is as extraordinarily successful as initial results suggest,
it could someday make insulin-dependent diabetes a thing of the past. This
would, in turn, decimate the market for insulin.
Here's how it works, according to Dr. Jerome Lakey, who co-wrote the New
England Journal of Medicine paper. A pancreas is taken from a brain-dead
organ donor whose heart is still beating. Lakey injects it with an enzyme
called Liberase, made by Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, which
starts breaking down the organ. The donor pancreas is then broken down into
individual, insulin-producing cells.
The result, Lakey says, is a simple, elegant treatment. The
insulin-producing cells are injected into the patient's side with a needle,
where the bloodstream carries them to the liver.
``The liver is a big filter,'' says Lakey, ``and the cells get stuck in
Once in the liver, the cells begin to produce insulin, taking over for the
Other attempts at transplanting pancreas cells have worked in fewer than 10%
of patients. And while this technique has so far been tried in only 10
people, the Alberta doctors say that it has been successful in all of them.
But there's one problem. Since the new insulin-producing cells are taken
from another person's body, the receiving patient's immune system will
almost always kill the donor cells, assuming they are attacking germs. The
only solution to this response is to give patients a drug to calm the immune
system, making them as dependant on the suppression drug as they were on
However, there are several different research approaches that may eliminate
even this problem. The bottom line is this: In the next decade or so, Eli
Lilly and other drug companies could see the lucrative insulin market
replaced by a new surgical technique. They should be looking to snatch up
any intellectual property from this new technique as soon as it goes on the
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