In the Quest for a Cure for Type 1 Diabetes, Two Companies Merge

Miriam E. Tucker

July 13, 2022

Vertex Pharmaceuticals has acquired ViaCyte, bringing together two of the leading biotechnology companies developing stem cell-derived islet cell replacement therapies for type 1 diabetes.

The $320 million cash purchase "will accelerate our goal of transforming, if not curing, type 1 diabetes by expanding our capabilities and bringing additional tools, technologies, and assets to our current stem cell-based programs," said Vertex Chief Executive Officer and President Reshma Kewalramani, MD, in a company statement.

Last month, Vertex reported on a phase 1/2 multicenter clinical trial for two patients with type 1 diabetes who experienced improved blood glucose control with half doses of the company's investigational allogeneic stem cell-derived islets (VX-880).

The first person to receive the product remained completely insulin-independent at 9 months post-transplant. A third patient has received the full targeted dose, but the data for this participant have yet to be reported.

For Viacyte's part, last week the company announced that a clinical hold placed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the trial has been lifted, allowing it to move forward with a planned total enrollment of 17 patients.

"The FDA requested additional information on the program, which we provided expeditiously. We are pleased that the hold has been lifted and look forward to continuing the Phase 1/2 trial in the US," a Vertex spokesperson told Medscape Medical News.

And a company official for ViaCyte presented results for three patients who received pancreatic precursor (PEC-01) cells derived from the company's proprietary pluripotent stem cell line at ENDO 2022: The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting held last month. The cells are housed in an open delivery device implanted into a patient's forearm. All three participants experienced improved blood glucose levels.

That presentation followed ViaCyte's announcement in February that the first patient with type 1 diabetes had been dosed in a Phase 1 clinical trial of its investigational allogeneic, gene-edited, stem cell-derived product, VCTX210, developed in collaboration with CRISPR Therapeutics' gene-editing technology. The aim is to generate islet cells that will produce insulin while avoiding recognition by the immune system, thus rendering immunosuppressive drugs unnecessary.

According to Vertex's announcement, "The acquisition of ViaCyte provides Vertex with complementary assets, capabilities, and technologies, including additional human stem cell lines, intellectual property around stem cell differentiation, and Good Manufacturing Practice...facilities for cell-based therapies that could accelerate Vertex's ongoing type 1 diabetes programs. The acquisition also provides access to novel hypoimmune stem cell assets via the ViaCyte collaboration with CRISPR Therapeutics."

In response to the announcement, the type 1 diabetes advocacy organization JDRF, which has funded the work of both companies, said in a statement that the acquisition "represents a significant stride in cures research for the type 1 diabetes community."

"The coming together of two leaders in the cell-derived therapies field will undoubtedly accelerate the development of VX-880 by combining their resources, technologies, intellectual property, and more," it added.

A third company developing stem cell-derived islet cell therapies, Sernova, said in a statement provided to Medscape Medical News: "We are very confident that bringing important game-changing technologies together, as we are seeing across the industry, will result in several viable technologies for the millions of people with type 1 diabetes...We are thrilled that there are several technologies under development using different approaches that have the potential to provide a 'functional cure' for this disease."

Vertex anticipates the acquisition will close later this year.

Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, DC, area. She is a regular contributor to Medscape, with other work appearing in The Washington Post, NPR's Shots blog, and Diabetes Forecast magazine. She is on Twitter: @MiriamETucker.

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