Company Formed to Expand Reach of Islet Transplant Therapy

Right now, islet transplant therapy requires donated cells. The hope is that lab-grown islets could vastly expand the pool of patients who could get treatment.

A new company, a partnership of industry and the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, has been formed to bring islet transplant therapy to thousands of patients, instead of relative handful who receive it today.

Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (CGT) and the university announced the creation of Islexa, which is developing laboratory grown organoids to produce insulin. While prior efforts have involved stem cells, Islexa’s approach is to reprogram pancreatic cells to produce insulin.

If successful, this would create the ability for transplant therapy to reach many more patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D) than can be reached today. Current transplant methods require islet donation, and rejection rates mean that sometimes the therapy has to be tried more than once.

Using converted pancreatic cells “has an advantage over the use of stem cells as source material,” said Kevin Docherty, PhD, of the University of Aberdeen. “Donated islets are already effectively treating severe cases of type 1 diabetes. Having a hugely expanded supply of lab-grown islets will enable us to significantly extend this established medical treatment.”

Islexa’s creation will allow for a stronger focus on preclinical development of the protocol for reprogramming pancreatic tissue into islets, with a goal of launching clinical trials in the next few years.

“Islet transplantation can transform the lives of patients with type 1 diabetes, and in some cases can result in long-term freedom from insulin injections with excellent glucose control,” said John Casey, PhD, MB, ChB, consulting transplant surgeon at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. The collaboration, he said, “will allow us to rapidly develop the technology and treat more patients, more effectively.”