Type 1 diabetes (T1D), formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic, life-threatening disease that affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States, 30,000 new cases are estimated every year with half of those cases diagnosed in young children. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the patient’s immune system goes awry and attacks and destroys the pancreatic beta cells. Beta cells are responsible for regulating blood sugar (glucose) levels by producing precise amounts of the essential hormone insulin.
The discovery of injectable insulin in the 1920s changed T1D from a uniformly fatal disease with a life expectancy of months to one that could be carefully managed for decades through multiple daily blood glucose measurements and insulin injections. However, insulin injections are not a cure and patients face a lifetime of difficult disease management and serious complications including kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage. Despite nearly a century passing since the discovery of insulin, insulin injection remains the only treatment available to patients.
Semma Therapeutics was founded to develop transformative therapies for patients who currently depend on insulin injections. Recent work in the laboratory of Professor Douglas Melton led to the discovery of a method to generate billions of functional, insulin-producing beta cells in the laboratory. These cells develop in islet-like clusters grown from stem cells. Initial preclinical work in animal models of diabetes has shown that transplantation of these cells are sufficient to control blood glucose levels. This breakthrough technology has been exclusively licensed to Semma Therapeutics for the development of a cell-based therapy for diabetes.
Ongoing research at Semma Therapeutics is focused on combining these proprietary cells with a state-of-the-art cell delivery and immune protection strategy that can protect these cells from the patient’s immune system and allow the beta cells to function as they do in non-diabetic individuals. Implantation of the beta cell-filled device has the potential to provide a true replacement for the missing beta cells in a diabetic patient and would not require patient immunosuppression. Semma Therapeutics is working to bring this new therapeutic option to the clinic and improve the lives of patients with diabetes.