The Servier Institute and Pasteur-Weizmann Council has awarded its annual prize in biomedical research to two scientists for their work in diabetes and autoimmunity, paving the way for improved treatment and an eventual cure for this debilitating disorder.
The award, given once every three years, has this time focused on diabetes - a chronic metabolic disease that is increasing on a worldwide scale. Global incidence is also climbing at a rate of around 3 per cent annually.
The Pasteur-Weizmann/Servier prize, worth €150,000 was split between the two recipients, who were selected for their outstanding contributions to fundamental research that has increased the understanding of the autoimmune mechanisms in type 1 diabetes.
George Eisenbarth, executive director for the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Denver, was awarded the 'senior prize' of €100,000 for his work in the fields of diabetes and immunology research in advancing the understanding of the pathophysiology of type 1 diabetes.
"Receiving this award is a great honour to me and all my research collaborations over the past years," he said.
"Type 1 diabetes is a huge global health problem and more research in this area is crucial. I believe it will be possible to develop an immunologic vaccine using response to insulin to prevent this disease and our work to achieve this aim will continue."
The winner of the 'junior' award of €50,000 was Lucienne Chatenoud, an immunologist, whose work on CD3 monoclonal antibodies, demonstrated how short-term treatment with these agents could prevent further decline of beta-cell function in recent-onset type 1 diabetic patients for upto 18 months.
"I am delighted to have won this prestigious award and plan to continue my research in this area," she said.
"Given the very encouraging results we have obtained to date, we hope to achieve more widespread use of CD3 antibodies in type 1 diabetes patients in the near future."
The work of the two researchers has important implications on the future landscape of diabetes treatments and therapies. The disease has taken on epidemic-like proportions in terms of incidences and medical costs.
Currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, with sufferers becoming totally dependent on insulin for their survival. The insulin must be administered by injection every day, something the pharma industry is trying to address with oral inhaled-insulin therapies that are more patient-friendly.
According to Frost and Sullivan, the insulin market is at a growth stage, while the oral anti-diabetic market is in the mature phase. Current estimates place the diabetes market at of $2.8bn (€2.2bn) in 2005 and it is estimated that this is to reach $4.60bn in 2012.
However, the market has yet to over come the inherent advantages of this type of therapy, in particular increased costs and a loss in accuracy of the insulin dosage due to the external mode of delivery.
Perhaps the treatment that has shown the most promise has been Nektar's Exubera. Recently approved, Exubera is the first in a line up of needle-free insulin promising to win the hearts of diabetics.
The figure being thrown around for the market potential of a new non-injectable insulin product such as Exubera is as high as $1.5 bn (€1.3 bn) a year.