We recently announced that JDRF was partnering with InnoCentive to find a better way to treat diabetes using a glucose-responsive insulin drug. We asked Dr. Sanjoy Dutta, Director of Glucose Control at JDRF to tell us a bit about this Challenge and the overall state of diabetes treatment today.
Thank you for joining us today, Sanjoy. Can you tell us a little bit about JDRF and the role you play in combating type 1 diabetes?
JDRF is committed to curing, treating, and preventing type 1 diabetes. While we work toward a cure, we strive to help people with type 1 diabetes live better, longer, healthier lives – people at all ages and at all stages of the disease. They are the reason JDRF exists, and remain at the forefront of everything we do.
A vital part of the fight against type 1 diabetes is developing better treatments to help people live better with the disease while we search for cures and preventions. And that is why JDRF is taking strides to make managing the disease better, safer, more efficient - because it’s not an easy disease to live with.
JDRF is the largest charitable funder and advocate of diabetes science worldwide, and since our founding in 1970, we’ve awarded more than $1.5 billion to diabetes research. In fact, more than 80 percent of JDRF's expenditures directly support research and research-related education.
Your Challenge is seeking ideas for the development of glucose-responsive insulin. What is glucose-responsive insulin and what kind of impact would the discovery and development of glucose-responsive insulin have on people with diabetes?
JDRF is utilizing InnoCentive’s Challenge platform to create a tightly controlled, glucose-responsive insulin drug for patients with insulin-dependent diabetes. This will enable improved glucose control, decrease or eliminate the need to test or monitor blood glucose levels, improve quality of life for people with the disease, and reduce their chances of short- and long-term diabetic complications.
Such a glucose-responsive insulin holds the potential to transform the lives of the hundreds of millions of people with diabetes in the world who are dependent on insulin (both type 1 and type 2). Working only when the body needs it, glucose-responsive insulin would deliver the precise amount of insulin in response to circulating glucose levels, to control and maintain normal blood glucose levels throughout a daily routine, with once-daily or less frequent dosing in people with insulin-dependent diabetes. This novel form of insulin would not need to be calibrated with carbohydrates or blood glucose testing (compared to current administration of insulin multiple times or continuously in a day).
Currently, all insulin treatments for people with diabetes release the same amount of insulin at fixed times throughout the entire body. However, in people without diabetes, the body secretes insulin in proportion to local blood glucose levels, delivering it to the body’s tissues and organs at the appropriate times, according to their specific needs. This helps the person without diabetes to maintain a target blood glucose level throughout the day. Glucose-responsive insulin could therefore be a transformative solution, vastly improving the quality of life of people with insulin-dependent diabetes.
Can you talk about the larger universe of diabetes research? Will there ever be a cure for diabetes?
Most countries, certainly the ones with a dedicated research budget, are investing significantly in diabetes research, because in addition to the life-burdening and life-threatening effects of this disease, the socio-economic burden is almost insurmountable. Current treatments have come a long way but these are unable to reverse the disease or prevent it in people at risk.
We have made progress toward the development of a cure. We now have a better understanding of the disease and its progression. This has enabled us to define various points of intervention with many plausible options that can be considered cures based on the causes of the disease and the stage of disease in each individual. JDRF is pursuing research to benefit individuals at all ages and stages of type 1 diabetes - research to prevent the disease in those who are at risk; to reverse or slow the autoimmune process in those who are newly diagnosed; and research to remove the underlying autoimmune attack and restore beta cell function in those who have lived with the disease for years.
You have mentioned that this Challenge could be the first stage in a larger “Grand Challenge” series. Can you tell us a bit about the bigger series and what will happen if you receive the solution you’re looking for?
There are several stages to this Challenge that will need to be executed with a step-by-step approach. This means that only when a certain phase is completed successfully, will we move on to the next phase.
The first phase of the Challenge, A GRI (Glucose Responsive Insulin) for Better Treatment of Type 1 Diabetes (link to Challenge) will involve JDRF fielding ideas for the development of a glucose-responsive insulin drug. During this phase, solvers will submit a brief overview of their concept and design for execution.
Once JDRF decides to award a Solver for this prize, JDRF will move on to the second phase of the “Grand Challenge” series, the Pre-Clinical Proof-of Principle Validation phase. This phase will build on the successful ideas from phase one, and provide detailed research plans, including pre-clinical proof-of-concept studies in animal model/s of type 1 diabetes, timelines, and budget estimates.
Continuing to build on the success of the previous phases, JDRF would then initiate the third phase of the Challenge, the Clinical Proof-of-Concept phase. At this stage, JDRF will work to outline a projected path forward for clinical development of glucose-responsive insulin and then execute on that plan to produce a pharmacologically safe and efficacious “drug” for use by people with type 1 diabetes. The second and third stages may involve the Winning Solvers and potentially partners from the academic and commercial sectors as part of a project team.
In other words, the final stage of the Grand Challenge Prize will encompass all steps necessary to turn ideas and plans into a commercially-viable therapy. And since each step relies on the previous stage’s success, it’s particularly critical that we receive good ideas for the first Challenge, as this will set the tone for the rest of the Challenge series.
At the end of the day, we are hopeful that we have helped to advance the development of a promising drug for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes.
What criteria would a solution need to meet in order to move to the next step in the series? How would the winning Solver(s) be involved in that next step?
Criteria for a winning solution are listed in the Challenge, and involve steps toward the discovery and development of most drugs. The winning Solver(s) will be invited to participate in the subsequent step(s), either alone or as part of a larger team of Solvers.
Because diabetes is such a high risk disease, a successful solution must offer potential solutions addressing three essential issues:
- Maintain physiologic glucose levels (between 70 and 110 mg/dL or between 4 – 6 mM most of the time, with post prandial values rising to no more than 160 for no longer than an hour) with a normal daily routine and at all ages
- Prevent overdosing of insulin, which causes hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels), a serious short-term adverse effect in people with diabetes
- Reduce the burden of managing the disease by minimizing human intervention – reduce frequent blood glucose measurements, calculation of insulin doses and the need to administer insulin – thus dramatically improving the quality of life
Is there anything else that you’d like our Solvers to know about this Challenge?
JDRF wants to encourage talent from beyond the diabetes research field to enter into this Challenge. Different perspectives could prove invaluable in helping to solve some of the main hurdles facing the development of glucose-responsive insulin.
An unmet need for millions of people living with insulin-dependent diabetes, glucose-responsive insulin has the potential to positively transform the lives of those individuals.
Thank you Sanjoy, and good luck with your Challenge.