26 Feb 2016

Monash awarded $1.1M grant to support development of revolutionary type of insulin

L-R: Ms Shweta Jagdale (Lab manager) &
Dr Christoph Hagemeyer in the lab
Monash researcher, Dr Christoph Hagemeyer, has received AUD$1.1 million dollars in funding as part of a multi-million dollar collaborative grant to support the development of a revolutionary type of insulin.

The grant is part of a joint research initiative between the JDRF, leading global organisation funding and advocating for type 1 diabetes (T1D) research, and Sanofi US Services Inc., a subsidiary of Sanofi, one of the leading insulin manufacturers and a global pharmaceutical company. The grant will provide up to USD4.6 million to four research projects taking different approaches to developing glucose responsive insulin (GRIs) therapies for treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes.

Dr Hagemeyer, who is a research group leader in the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, will work in collaboration with Dr Frank Caruso (University of Melbourne), Dr Jonathan Shaw, Dr Mark Copper and Dr Terri Allen (from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute) to develop glucose-sensing nanoparticles.

“This is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with leading organisations to develop an alternate class of therapies expected to improve the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes, particularly T1D,” Dr Hagemeyer said.

Currently there is no cure for T1D, a life-threatening disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and kills the pancreatic cells that produce insulin—a hormone that is essential for life because of its role to help the body use glucose.

People living with T1D are dependent on insulin therapy to help keep their blood-sugar levels from spiking too high, which can lead to long-term complications such as kidney and heart diseases or an acute, potentially deadly health crisis. Present-day insulin therapy is, however, an imperfect treatment method that requires people with T1D to monitor their blood sugar throughout the day and take multiple, carefully calculated doses of insulin based on food intake, exercise, stress, illness and other factors.  A miscalculation or unexpected variable leading to high- or low-blood-sugar episodes are daily threats and only a third of people with T1D achieve their long-term blood glucose targets, placing them at risk for T1D-related complications.

According to JDRF Assistant Vice President of Translational Development Sanjoy Dutta, the drugs may be able to address many of the shortcomings and challenges of current insulin therapy by providing a treatment that can more reliably maintain blood sugar levels within a safe range and potentially help reduce the burden of managing T1D by minimising dosing frequency.

“JDRF is committed to driving development of GRIs for the T1D community, and we are excited to partner with Sanofi because their knowledge and expertise in insulin development will help drive these research projects toward success,” Dr Dutta said.

JDRF’s funding of the GRI research projects selected for this expansion of the collaboration is made possible in part by a generous gift from the Agnes Varis Trust, an Englewood, NJ-based charitable trust that previously supported the 2013 JDRF GRI Grand Challenge Prize. 

The four researchers funded under the JDRF/Sanofi GRI expansion of the collaboration are:

•    Christoph Hagemeyer, Ph.D., of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who will develop glucose-sensing nanoparticles; 
•    Pasadena, Calif.-based researcher Alborz Mahdavi, Ph.D., whose startup Protomer will develop insulin analogs with engineered glucose responsivity. Dr. Mahdavi is one of three winners of the 2013 JDRF GRI Grand Challenge Prize—an innovation competition; 
•    North Carolina State University/UNC Chapel Hill researcher Zhen Gu, Ph.D., who, among other things, will develop  GRI patches;
•    University of Utah researcher and former JDRF postdoctoral fellow Danny Chou, Ph.D., who will explore an alternative approach to analog insulin so that it will deactivate once blood glucose drops below a certain level.
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