Glassia®, the flagship product of the Israeli biopharmaceutical company, Kamada, was developed to treat Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency, a hereditary condition characterized by a low level of alpha-1 protein in the blood and the lungs.
So, what does a drug to treat lung disease have to do with type 1 diabetes? What’s the connection? To find out more we talked to Yaron Cherny, Kamada’s director of business development, about this exciting new drug and the promise it holds for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.
Please tell us about Alpha-1 Antitrypsin? What is it?
AAT is a naturay occurring protein, produced by the liver, which helps protect lung tissue from damaging enzymes that are released by white blood cells. A lack of AAT may result in early onset emphysema and severe lung damage. Some people have a liver that does not produce the protein at all or produces an inactive protein.
AAT is known for its anti inflammatory activity together with its ability to protect the cell tissue. In addition, AAT in the lungs balances the activity of a different protein, neutrophil elastase, and in doing so protects the lungs from protease-mediated tissue destruction which sometimes leads to emphysema.
What can you tell us about Glassia®?
Glassia® is Kamada’s intravenously administered AAT replacement therapy for patients suffering from AAT deficiency. It was approved by the U.S. FDA in 2010 and soon after the company entered a strategic exclusive distribution agreement for Glassia® in the U.S. with Baxter. Kamada has been marketing the AAT IV product since 2005 in Israel, Brazil and other countries.
An inhaled version AAT replacement therapy is already in advanced stages of a pivotal phase 2-3 clinical trial in the EU for the treatment of AAT deficiency.
Kamada also conducted a phase 2 trial to treat cystic fibrosis patients and another phase 2 trial to treat bronchieactasis. We’ve published excellent safety results and indication for efficacy.
Recently we announced the initiation of a phase 1-2 proof of concept clinical trial to treat type 1 diabetes.
How did this come about? In other words, how did you get from lung disease to type 1 diabetes?
In recent years, there have been several studies conducted with Glassia® that support the idea of treating diabetes with AAT. These studies showed that AAT stops the inflammatory process, can delay the progression of the disease and stop the destruction of the insulin producing beta cells.
Several studies with diabetic animals have shown that in the presence of AAT, the animal recovers, and that diabetic animals treated with AAT in due time did not develop the disease.
Experiments done with AAT, including Glassia®, have also shown preliminary safety and efficacy.
Whose idea was it to test AAT as a diabetes treatment?
The scientific idea behind the trial is to use the anti inflammatory activity of AAT, and by that stop the inflammation of the pancreas. The anti inflammatory properties of AAT are very well known in the research world and Kamada decided to take the leap and bring it to clinical trial in patients with type 1 diabetes who are in their honeymoon period (newly diagnosed).
Type 1 diabetics do not suffer from AAT deficiency so why would AAT replacement therapy benefit them?
Recent studies have shown that patients with type 1 diabetes may not be AAT deficient and may have normal levels of AAT but the protein in type 1s is not as active as in healthy non-diabetics.
How would this therapy be used with type 1 diabetes patients? Would it replace insulin therapy?
We don’t have enough data to answer this question. The drug is aimed at preventing and or decreasing damage to beta cells which produce insulin. So, if the drug works, it might replace insulin fully or partially. But we still don’t know if it will, or at what stage of disease, or for how long. The drug does not perform the same function insulin does. The drug is targeted at saving the cells that produce insulin.
Who would be a candidate for AAT replacement therapy? (Your inclusion criteria is within 6 months of diagnosis with some insulin production.)
The main inclusion criteria is early diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. See at clinicaltrials.gov for more inclusion/ exclusion criteria.
AAT has been demonstrated to have protective effects on islets when included directly in islet media; is there any evidence that exogenous AAT has tissue-specific protective effects in vivo? In other words, is there any evidence that circulating AAT will have a measurable effect on islet cells, rather than just overall inflammation?
Yes, there is evidence that AAT has protective effect on islets in various systems, including in vivo studies. For example, we have seen the protective effects both during transplantation of islets and during the progression of diabetes in the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice. *A list of references will appear at the end of this interview.
A number of trials in recent-onset patients aiming to reduce inflammation and extend beta-cell life have come up short of their primary endpoints, and some argue that the trials need to be started sooner, in at-risk, non-diabetic patients. Do you think relative disease progression is an issue with the AAT trials? Is recent-onset soon enough to see an effect?
Yes, it is assumed at this stage in development that the beneficial effect would be in early stages of disease.
Would the therapy be injected or inhaled, daily/weekly? What kind of side-effects do you anticipate?
We are starting the first trial. The final/actual dose given in therapy is subject to clinical development. This is not known yet. The side effects anticipated are the same as listed in the product insert for AAT augmentation therapy in congenital emphysema.
How long do you anticipate the trials will last? If all goes well, when might the drug be approved for treating type 1 diabetes?
Kamada announced that it is expecting to release an interim and final report during 2012. Please remember – this is only phase 1-2, so it will take some time before we would be able to estimate when the drug would be in the market. But we’re hopeful.
Michael Aviad is co-founder of ASweetLife. He writes the blog, Diabetes, It’s An Endurance Sport.
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