University of Technology Sydney starts insulin research with US firm

PharmaCyte Biotech partnership aims to create a new version of Melligen cells for the treatment of diabetes with the potential to express higher levels of insulin

PharmaCyte Biotech has begun a new research agreement with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. The cooperation of the two companies aims to create a new version of Melligen cells for the treatment of diabetes with the potential to express higher levels of insulin.

In a world with increasing diabetes rate and insulin supply a constant subject of conversation, new and improved systems are imperative. Melligen cells are of particular interest as in contrast to primary beta islet cells of the pancreas, which normally produce insulin and stem-cell-derived insulin-producing cells, Melligen cells are a scalable and highly characterised cell line that can readily be expanded in a bioreactor to generate the amounts of cells needed for cell banking, testing and production.

Kenneth L Waggoner, PharmaCyte’s CEO, said: “We are pleased to have come to an agreement with UTS that allows us to take the Melligen cells to the next level in our development of a ‘bioartificial pancreas’ for the treatment of Type 1 and insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes.

Waggoner added: “If we are successful, it will bring to fruition the many years of research that have been conducted by Professor Ann Simpson and her colleagues at UTS as well as PharmaCyte in developing these remarkable insulin-producing cells.”

Melligen cells are human liver cells that have been genetically engineered to produce, store and release insulin in response to the levels of blood sugar in the body. PharmaCyte has obtained the exclusive worldwide license rights from UTS to use these cells to develop a therapy for Type 1 and insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes.

PharmaCyte plans to encapsulate Melligen cells using its live-cell encapsulation technology, Cell-in-a-Box, to protect the Melligen cells from immune system attack in the body and thus function as a “bioartificial pancreas” for purposes of insulin production.

The unique properties that set the Melligen cells apart from all other available insulin-producing cell types, include their robustness, their ability to withstand an attack from cell-toxic molecules that typically lead to the destruction of insulin-producing cells and their suitability for cost-efficient pharmacological-grade large scale production.

The work undertaken by PharmaCyte, UTS and PharmaCyte’s International Diabetes Consortium over the last two years has resulted in an opportunity to re-engineer the Melligen cells with the aim of increasing their insulin production as well as the bioactivity of the produced insulin. With this new agreement in place, the research will be done in Australia under the leadership of Simpson, the developer of the original Melligen cell line.

Professor Simpson said: “Both UTS and PharmaCyte are investing in this important research because we believe in the significant health impact potential. This takes us a step closer to eliminating the need for diabetics to inject insulin daily and, more importantly, protects them from developing the debilitating complications of the disease such as blindness, neuropathy and possible amputations, kidney failure and cardiovascular problems.”

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