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Collaborating to End the Blight of Diabetes


The statistics on the prevalence of diabetes – a chronic disease in which the body fails to process glucose properly – across the globe are a serious cause for concern. In 2014, the World Health Organization estimated that around 9% of adults across worldwide had this disease. In 2012 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and by 2030 the projection is that it is set to be the 7th leading cause of death. These figures represent a significant incentive for the pharmaceutical industry and its partners to address this problem.

On the advent of World Diabetes Day 2015, it is clear that only via a collaborative effort can we hope to reduce the burden of this disease which, over time, and certainly if left unchecked, can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

With this in mind, there’s no better vehicle to harness all the necessary expertise in the fight against diabetes than the Innovative Medicines Initiative, the world’s largest public-private partnership in life sciences, established under the EU framework programme Horizon 2020 with an impressive budget of €3.276 billion

Tackling such a devastating disease can be daunting, particularly as it manifests itself in more than one form. Let’s take a look first at type 2 diabetes. Known also as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, diabetes type 2 occurs mostly in people over-45 who are obese and sedentary.

Of course, prevention is a must, but we also need to do something constructive for those who already suffer from the disease. Within IMI we have therefore created a very comprehensive programme to develop an improved toolkit to accelerate research and introduce a better understanding of diabetes and diabetic patients subgroups. We are looking to optimise treatment/treatment options and to focus on the non-invasive early identification of diabetes complications.

The first version of IMI (IMI1) housed a range of projects dedicated to dealing with diabetes type 2. They included: DIRECT – Diabetes research on patient stratification; IMIDIA – Improving beta-cell function and identification of diagnostic biomarkers for treatment monitoring in diabetes; and SUMMIT – surrogate markers for micro- and macro-vascular hard endpoints for innovative diabetes tools

In IMI2 we have continued down the same path. We are assessing the risk and progression of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes to slow down the disease. Another project set to kick off in 2016, aims at the identification of diabetic kidney disease biomarkers (DKD-BM). The significance of this project cannot be underestimated, given that diabetic kidney disease (DKD) is the leading cause of end stage renal disease (ESRD), and its global incidence and prevalence are both increasing.

By contrast, type 1 diabetes is a different kettle of fish altogether. You can’t prevent it, and today you can’t cure it yet either. Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) is a chronic disease that affects some 17 million people worldwide.

Affecting people from birth, the consequences of this disease are devastating. It leads to suffering and serious limitations to everyday lives. As if this were not bad enough, management of the disease is complex.

While rational disease-modifying, therapeutic approaches to address T1DM are lacking, IMI2 has come to the rescue. An unprecedented project on T1DM will start any day now, to progress significantly the understanding of the disease and its patients by bringing together leading clinicians and researchers from academia and industry in the fields of immunology, beta cell biology, and biomarker research.

We expect this initiative will boost the molecular understanding of the disease and explore the impact of standard medical care upon T1DM patients. We also want it to deliver insights into the disease heterogeneity and provide tools for the identification of high-risk patients. The ultimate outcome will be the definition and refinement of T1DM disease taxonomy, which could create a foundation for personalised therapy to address the needs of T1DM patients.

In the fight against diabetes, we are well aware that IMI is not the only place where things happen. What we are looking to do is to contribute effectively to fight this deadly disease, which affects millions of people and blights healthcare budgets. We can best do this by joining forces, bringing our best knowledge, understanding, data and tools to the table, with the aspiration to one day cure what today can only be managed.

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Written by


EFPIA Science Policy Director

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