Lilly, Transition to tackle diabetes

Companies to explore gastrin-based therapies to regenerate insulin-producing cells

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INDIANAPOLIS—Eli Lilly and Co. has teamed up with biopharmaceutical company Transition Therapeutics to explore potential disease-modifying therapies for patients with diabetes, the pharmaceutical company announced last month.

Toronto-based Transition is a product-focused biopharmaceutical company developing therapeutics for large-market disease indications, including diabetes and Alzheimer's Disease. Transition's gastrin-based therapies, an emerging class of potential disease-modifying therapies for diabetic patients, have been shown to provide sustained improvement in glycemic control—a key goal for diabetics in order to alleviate the symptoms of hyperglycemia and to prevent diabetic complications—in preclinical models and early clinical studies.

The agreement gives Lilly exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize the therapies. In addition, the companies will participate in a Phase II clinical trial with Transition's lead compound TT-223 in type 2 diabetes. Thereafter, Lilly will be responsible for further development activities and the commercialization of all gastrin-based therapeutic products worldwide.

Under the terms of the agreement, Transition will receive a $7 million upfront payment, and may also receive up to $130 million in potential development and sales milestones, as well as royalties on sales of gastrin-based therapies if any product is successfully commercialized. Other terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Lilly has a long history in diabetes research, and this agreement with Transition really seemed to fit with our core therapeutic goals," says Mark Taylor, corporate spokesman for Lilly. "Transition's gastrin-based therapies are a new and different approach to diabetes care than what we have been looking at internally."

Current approaches to treat insulin-dependent diabetes include transplantation of islet beta cells. However, transplantation is rare as each transplant requires islet cells donated from multiple organ donors. According to Transition, gastrin-based therapies culminate gastrin's ability to regenerate the body's own insulin-producing islet beta cells in the pancreas.

"We're excited to be working with Transition, not just on a strict licensing of their molecules, but also on further development of these gastrin-based therapies because of the potential for regenerating failed cells," Taylor says. "This involves not just managing the symptoms of diabetes, but also looking at the core cause and attacking what could be causing diabetes to begin with."

Gastrin-based therapies have the potential to reduce or eliminate the need for regular insulin injections for months or even years by regenerating the body's own insulin-producing cells with a short-course treatment. Gastrin can also synergize with other agents that can regulate blood glucose such as GLP-1 or DPP-IV inhibitors to correct hyperglycemia in diabetes patients.

Transition estimates the potential market size for gastrin-based therapies in the United States alone at more than $16 billion.

"We are very pleased to enter into this strategic collaboration with Lilly, a recognized leader in diabetes care," says Dr. Tony Cruz, chairman and CEO of Transition. "Lilly has industry-leading clinical and commercial development capabilities in diabetes that are ideally suited to maximize the potential of the multiple gastrin-based therapy opportunities." 

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