A drug commonly used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis now also shows some promise in helping patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The drug, rituximab (Rituxan) helped patients continue to produce some of their own insulin, although the disease had already begun to destroy the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, reports a study in the Nov. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. In the trial, 87 patients between the ages of 8 and 40 who had newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were assigned to receive infusions of rituximab or placebo on days 1, 8, 15, and 22 of the study. After one year, patients who received rituximab required less external insulin than those who received a placebo. The need for less external insulin has advantages. Data has shown that people who produce some of their own insulin tend to have fewer complications in the long term.
These findings may open a new pathway for exploration in the treatment of patients with type 1 diabetes.