Friday, May 8, 2015

Artificial Pancreas Update (May 2015)

I have decided, for 2015 at least, to do quarterly updates for Artificial Pancreas research. The area is moving forward so quickly that I think that quarterly updates are warranted.

The term "artificial pancreas" refers to using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to feed data to a computer, which controls an insulin pump, and in some models, a glucagon pump as well. Artificial pancreas refers to using existing technology in all these areas, but connecting them together so that a person does not need to worry about counting carbs or blood glucose levels. It is all done automatically. Most people do not consider this a cure, but I follow AP research because some people do consider it a cure.  There is no doubt that such technology would be a huge step forward in treatment, and would largely prevent "dead in bed" due to low blood glucose events.

An earlier version of this blog had the wrong dates for future Medtronic product releases.  I'm sorry about that.  This posting has the correct dates.  Thanks to Tamar Sofer-Geri for finding the mistake.

Artificial Pancreas Update for April 2015

The JDRF uses a 6 step model to describe milestones on the way to the fully featured artificial pancreas that we all want.  You can read about those milestones here:
So when I refer to "step 1" and "step 4" and so on in this blog, I'm referring to the steps described by JDRF.

Corporate News from Medtronic

Back in January, Medtronic made the following product announcements:
  • The 640G (predictive low glucose suspend) will ship in Europe in April 2015.
  • The 640G will ship in the United States in April 2016.
  • The 670G will ship in the United States in April 2017.
  • The 670G will ship in Europe in April 2018.
News (from Close Concerns / diaTribe):

There are three pieces of good news included in those predictions.

First, the 640G is a step 2 Artificial Pancreas, so it will predict and avoid low blood glucose events.

Second, the 670G (depending on exactly how it turns out) could be a step 3 or 4 device.  That means it will predict and avoid both low BGs and high BGs, but not cover meals automatically.

Third, it means that Medtronics believes that the FDA's previous approval delays will stop:

  • There was a 2.5 year delay (from European approval to US approval) for the 530G.
  • Medtronics expects a 1 year delay for the 640G.
  • Medtronics expects a 1 year advantage (US before Europe) for the 670G.

I hope they are right about this!  FDA's delays in earlier AP approvals are one of the major reasons AP development has been slow, and European availability is ahead of us. If the FDA is able to fix this problem over the next few years, that is a huge piece of good news for all AP companies and ultimately, all AP users.

MD-Logic Goes Commercial

MD-Logic is one of the artificial pancreas projects which has been in phase-II clinical trials.  I previously blogged on it in Nov-2014:
In the past, it has been a research project, but a company called DreaMed Diabetes was founded to commercialize it, and they recently signed an agreement with Medtronic.  According to diaTribe:
Medtronic plans to use this technology in their artificial pancreases after the 670G.  The 670G will be a step 4 AP (automatic except for meals), while the MD-Logic based follow on will be a step 5 AP (automatic including meals).

Also, MD-Logic's blood glucose control algorithm got a "CE" mark in Europe (which is their "approval to sell" symbol).  You can read about it here:
However, I'm not sure what that means from a practical point of view.  You cannot use an algorithm by itself.  It has to be part of a piece of software or hardware, and right now no one is selling any product which uses the algorithm.  Maybe this CE mark will speed Medtronic's approval in Europe when the time comes?

Artificial Pancreas News From Tandem (makers of t:slim)

I slogged through a Tandem analyst's call in Feburary, which you can read here:

There are only a few paragraphs on AP research, and my rough translation of them is this:

Tandem is currently experimenting internally, and not on people, with both predictive low glucose suspend (step 2 AP) and predictive high glucose dosing (step 3 AP).  In the second half of 2015 they will start the paperwork to run a clinical trial testing predictive low glucose suspend.  Based on discussions with the FDA at that time, they will have  better idea of how many clinical trials will be required for approval (and therefore how long it will take).  Also they will have a better idea about testing both the predictive low suspend and high dosing at the same time, or release one and then the other.

Bihormonal AP Update from CarbDM's Diabetes Summit

I attended CarbDM's "Diabetes Summit" in Silicon Valley last month.  It was wonderful, even though I could not stay to the end.  Listening to the morning speakers was very informative, but in this blog I'm going to limit myself to discussing  Dr. Ed Damiano's talk.

Dr. Damiano is working on a bihormonal (insulin and glucagon) AP, called the "Bionic Pancreas". The key piece of information from his talk was that they will finish the current round of phase-II trials on April 27th (that's the last day of data collection).   Another round of studies is planned for the second half of 2015.  For next year, the plan is to create a device that can be sold and spend the rest of 2016 and 2017 testing it.

Dr Damiano reported on results from several clinical trials (adults and children who use the AP under different circumstances).  For all these studies, the numbers were great (in my opinion).  They averaged in the low 140s or high 130s in different trials.

There were some other interesting tidbits: the daily dose of glucagon used by people on this bihormonal AP was between 1% and 3% of the dose used in a single "rescue" injection, so a relatively small amount.   Also, the amount of insulin used by people on the AP was about the same as people in the control group.  So it's clear that the bihormonal AP is using insulin more efficiently, not just using more insulin.

The Diabetes Summit:

International Conference on Advanced Technologies & Treatments for Diabetes (ATTD 2015) 

This was a conference held in Feburary in Europe that had dozens of papers, many of which covered artificial pancreas research, continuous glucose monitoring techniques, and related areas.

You can see all of their posters here:
Abstracts for a huge number of papers are here:

Joshua Levy 
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com 
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

ATG and GCSF Combination Starts a Phase-II Trial

ATG is Anti-Thymocyte Globulin, a biological agent used to lower immune reactions.
GCSF is Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor, a biological agent which causes bone marrow to generate more stem cells and more immune cells, and put them into the blood stream.  It is sometimes called G-CSF, and the exact product being used is Neulasta.

So the two of them together could make an effective combination therapy against type-1 diabetes. ATG would lower the autoimmune attack, and GCSF would help the body regrow beta cells.  At least, that is the hope. I wrote a more detailed blog entry on this combination four years ago, which you can read here:

ATG and GCSF Combination Starts a Phase-II Trial

This is a three armed study.  Each group will have at least 28 people.  The first will get ATG.  The second will get ATG and GCSF.  The third will get a placebo.  The ATG will be given twice, one day apart.  The GCSF will be given six times, two weeks apart. They started recruiting in December 2014, and hope to finish collecting their data in October 2016.  The primary outcome (the most important result they will measure) is C-peptide generation after a meal as measured a year after treatment.  There are no secondary outcomes listed, however I've been told they will track A1c, insulin usage, low BG, adverse effects, and infection rates as secondary outcomes.

They are recruiting in at least six different locations, all over the United States.  Although it's not listed on the clinical trial site, Stanford is recruiting for this trial, and they are planning on adding UCSF soon as well.  The list (with contact information) is in the Clinical Trial Record below. Patients must be between 12 and 46, and have been diagnosed within a 100 days,so this is a honeymoon trial.

Recruiting Site:
Clinical Trial Record:
Press Release:

Funding for this trial comes from several US government agencies, JDRF, ADA, Helmsley, and two commercial companies: Sanofi and Amgen.

Discussion About Previous Results

For me, the most important question in a phase-II trial is: "What happened in the phase-I trial?"  If there was a phase-I trial.  For this treatment, there was and it included a placebo group.  The results were good, but not great, from the point of view of curing type-1 diabetes.  Over the years of the trial, the placebo group had lower C-peptide levels (meaning they lost the ability to make their own insulin). This is what would be expected during the years after diagnosis.  The treated group's C-peptide levels stayed about the same.

Obviously, an optimist will look at those results, and say "they stopped the loss, this is good, and the earlier we can use this, the better it will be".  A pessimist would say "they had type-1 when the trial started; they had it when it was over; there was no real improvement".

My blog on their previous results is here:

And here is the most important graph from those results, you can see that treated people stayed the same (dark line at top) while untreated people got worse (lighter line below):

The full paper is here:
Thanks to the The Journal of Clinical Investigation for making the whole paper available on line.

Joshua Levy 
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com 
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kickstarting Type-1 Diabetes Research

Kickstarter is a web site which "crowdsources" funding for creative projects. This is called "crowdfunding". In my opinion is is an important part of a creative explosion made possible by the world wide web. If someone wants to write a book, they can run a Kickstarter to fund printing it, before they spend the time writing it. They could promise people who give $20 a copy of the book, and promise people who give $40 an autographed copy of the book, and allow people who give $200 to name a minor character in the book. That sort of thing. It opens up whole new areas of creativity, by lowering the financial risk to creative people.

You can go to and search for "diabetes" to see projects which have something to do with diabetes.  Kickstarter is not the only site that does this kind of crowdfunding. and are similar.

Kickstarting Type-1 Diabetes Research

This blog entry is about The Diabetes Research Connection:

This web site is trying to take the ideas which worked so well for Kickstarter, and apply them to funding of type-1 diabetes research projects.  They've got six projects on their web site right now, so you can see how it works.  Of the six projects, one is fully funded, and one other is a sort of "internal project" to fund the web site itself.  The other projects are in process.  Projects must be completed in a year, and are limited to $60,000, so I doubt these guys are going to fund any human trials. However, all research needs to start somewhere.

Discussion and Opinion

There is no doubt in my mind, that the reason some people don't like giving money to large, impersonal organizations (like JDRF) is that they don't have any connection to where the money ends up.  If I give $1000 to JDRF, they end up giving that money to 300 different research projects.  I can read about the highlights of JDRF funding in general, but I don't feel a personal connection to any of it.  That really bothers some people.  (I'm just using JDRF as an example here, most large charities work this way.  Discussion of "earmarking" is below.)

This system is very much the opposite.  I know exactly where my $1000 goes, and get updates from the researcher, and see exactly what gets published and so on.  When I donate, I automatically become part of a community of people who care about that specific research project; there is a social aspect to it.

There is also a "middle of the road" option. For many charities, including JDRF, you can gain that personal connection by "earmarking" your donation to a specific research project or specific research area, but that requires a little extra work, and does not have the social aspects that The Diabetes Connection has. The Diabetes Connection has forums for each specific research project; JDRF has fewer opportunities for interaction, and they are for the charity as a whole, not specific research projects.

I certainly am not going to argue that one system is better than another; for one thing, I think different people will be attracted to different systems.  I like the idea of different models of charitable giving completing with each other to see which works best, and also available for different people who like different ways of donating money.

But it is also important to remember the risks.   The Diabetes Research Connection has not yet been reviewed by, and doesn't have a track record to evaluate (either from a research point of view or a financial point of view).   Finally, the whole idea of pushing funding decisions down to the individual contributor has some large risks.  Charity organizations, especially the larger well established ones, have resources and processes to evaluate research proposals. Individual contributors rarely do.

I want to thank Brian Braxton for first bringing this to my attention.

Joshua Levy 
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com 
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tocilizumab (Actemra) Starts a Phase-II Trial

Tocilizumab (brand name: Actemra, often shortened to TCZ) blocks the action of IL-6 which is a part of the immune system. It has been approved in the USA since 2010 for use against Rheumatoid Arthritis, which, like type-1 diabetes, is an autoimmune disease.  The hope is that since it works on one autoimmune disease, it will work on another.  Usually the drug is given as an IV drip (which requires a clinic visit), but recently a subcutaneous injection was approved.  Subcutaneous injections are the same type of injection as used for insulin.

Tocilizumab Starts a Phase-II Trial

The trial is straightforward.  It is placebo controlled, double blind.  Of 108 patients in the trial, 2/3s will get the treatment and 1/3 will get the placebo.  The drug is given via IV once a month for a total of seven treatments.  The last data will be collected 2 years after the first treatment.  Researchers will gather data on C-peptide production, A1c numbers, and insulin usage.  This study is being funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and done in cooperation with Immune Tolerance Network (ITN), and the Diabetes TrialNet.  They are recruiting honeymoon diabetes (within 100 days of diagnosis), and expect to have ten different sites all over the US.  They hope to have results by August 2018.

The interesting part, at least to me, is how they are handling recruiting children.  They have the standard problem of recruiting honeymoon type-1 diabetics:  The FDA often requires a trial in adults before you can run a trial in children.  Of course, this is a particularly silly requirement for a drug (like Tocilizumab) which has already been approved for use in children.  In order to get around this restriction, the researchers organized their trial in the following way: The first 30 patients will all be adults.  After those adults have been treated for 12 weeks, the accumulated safety data will be reviewed, and (hopefully) the rest of the trial will be open to people of all ages.  But the downside is the delay caused by limiting recruitment to adults for about 30 out of 108 patients.  Finding adults within 100 days of diagnosis is a lot slower than finding children.

This clinical trial is currently recruiting in two locations:
Benaroya Research Institute -- Seattle, Washington, United States, 98101
    Contact: Marli McCulloch Olson    206-342-6943
Sanford Research -- Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA
    Contact: Angela Vanveldhuizen    605-312-1395
Indiana University, Riley Hospital -- Indianapolis, IN, USA
    Contact: Bonnie Jagielo  317-278-8879

However, they are planning on adding many more sites, including these in California:
University of California San Francisco -- San Francisco, California, USA -- Rebecca Wesch 415-476-5984
Stanford University  -- Stanford, California, USA -- Trudy Esrey 650-498-4450

Many more are listed in the clinical trial record.  The web site is below.

Study Web Page:
One Site's Page:
Clinical Trial Record:
Effect on Type-2 Diabetes:
(Case study were type-2 diabetics had improved A1c numbers.  Researchers assumed this was due to Tocilizumab's anti-inflammatory properties.)

Tocilizumab's safety profile is pretty good.  This study:
looked at serious adverse events and "plain old" adverse events in 8 different clinical trials run for Tocilizumab's rheumatoid arthritis approval. Five of them were phase-III trials.  You can look at the details, but basically serious adverse effects where the same in placebo, low dose and high dose.  For "plain old" adverse effects, high dose was about 10% higher than placebo, and low dose in between the two.

If Tocilizumab does prove effective, there are several other drugs available which work by blocking IL-6, and presumably they would be worth testing as well: Sarilumab, Olokizumab, and Elsilimomab are examples.

Extra Bits and Pieces

I have not found a "cured in mice" type experiment for Tocilizumab, but it has been tested in human tissue samples.  There are some mouse studies from the 1990s showing that IL-6 does effect the development of autoimmune diabetes in NOD mice.

Clinical development for this drug took about 13 years until it became available in the US, and it was first created about 25 years before commercial availability.

In 2011, the FDA approved Tocilizumab for use in children as young as two years old.

If Tocilizumab does prove effective, there are several other drugs available which work by blocking IL-6, and presumably they would be worth testing as well: Sarilumab, Olokizumab, and Elsilimomab are examples.

Joshua Levy 
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Smart Insulin (MK-2640) Starts Clinical Trials

This is a blog posting that I've been waiting four years to write: the start of clinical trials for "Smart Insulin".

First, some general background on "Smart Insulin". The idea here is simple: create a chemical that holds insulin and only releases that insulin when the sugar level in the surrounding region is high. You would not have to measure blood sugar levels or match insulin to food. Instead you would just take this "self-dosing" insulin compound and it would release insulin as needed based on what you ate or did not eat.

"Smart Insulin" was the name of the first strong contender in the field, which was developed by Dr. Zion first at MIT and then at Smart Cells, which was later bought by Merck.  The term is also used generically, to refer to any "self dosing" or "Glucose Responsive Insulin"  (although I'm sure Merck's trademark lawyers would not approve).  No other self dosing insulin is in human trials, but SIA-II, Ins-PBA-F, and Sensulin, are being developed, and those are just the ones that I know about.  Smart Insulin had been tested in mice when it was sold to Merck (in 2010) and so a lot people, myself included, thought it would be in clinical trials quickly.  Obviously, the "quick" part did not happen, but the clinical trial part has started.

Smart Insulin (MK-2640) Starts A Clinical Trial

But the big news is that Smart Insulin has started clinical (human) trials.  In fact, the trial started months ago, in November 2014.   I missed it, mostly because Merck changed the drug's name from "Smart Insulin" to "L-490" to "MK-2640".   The clinical trial was under the name MK-2640, and I missed it.  Luckily Mike Hoskin at DiabetesMine publicized the name change.  You should read his blog for some general background, but notice that MK-2640 (the smart insulin I discuss here) is the second part of the posting:

The trial itself has a fairly complex design.  It's two trials combined into one.  Part 1 is a group of 7 different "panels" (dosing regimens) given to healthy people.  Part 2 is a comparison of regular insulin to MK-2640 in people who have had type-1 diabetes for at least a year.  All of this involves 58 people and is expected to be done by July 2015.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell how many people are doing what, so I don't know if each of the 58 people are doing each dosing regimen, or if the 58 people are divided up between the different doses.  Most of the data they are collecting is "pharmacokinetic" meaning they are measuring how much of the drug is available in the body at any given time.  How quickly it "washes out" of the body and so on.  They will also be looking for adverse events and also patient drop outs caused by adverse events.  For a drug like "smart insulin" where variable dosing is critical to its success, focusing on pharmacokinetics makes a lot of sense to me.

The study is recruiting in Chula Vista, California, USA. Call their toll free number: 1-888-577-8839.

Clinical Trial Record:
ClinicAnnouncement of Merck buying Smart Cells:


My summary is simple: in a few short months, we are going to know a lot more about how "Smart Insulin" works in people, than we know now.

One very good thing about "Smart Insulin", especially when developed by a big pharma company like Merck, is that it can move through the approval process much faster than the other drugs I cover. One of the repeating themes of this blog is that it will take a cure at least 10 years to go through the FDA's approval process, and more years are likely.  That's not rocket science, it is simple math.  The FDA requires three phases, the first phase usually takes a year to recruit the patients and a year to gather the data.  The second and third phases also take a year to recruit the patients, and two years to gather the data, and then there is a year or two for marketing approval, and we are at (2+3+3+2) 10 years.  That assumes that every phase starts the moment the previous phase ends.  In real life there are often months or years of delay between each phase, so in real life these drugs take longer to get approved.

But that is for drugs aimed at curing type-1 diabetes.  For a new insulin, most studies only collect data for three months.  Also, recruiting people is much easier, both because they are adults and because they already are taking insulin, so you're just asking them to take a different insulin.  It's not as scary as something that changes your immune system.   Bottom line is that the phase-I trial is expected to be done in 8 months (recruiting and data collection).  I would expect phase-II and phase-III trials to also be sped up, as compared to cure trials.  The downside is that insulins usually have more than 4 clinical trials before approval, and usually a couple of them are longer than 3 months. But still, I would expect a quicker testing cycle for a new insulin than for a potential cure.

This is a treatment where some people are going to think of it as a cure, and others are going to think of it as a treatment.  That's not an argument I want to spend time on.  I will cover Smart Insulin (at least this first trial) because some people do consider it a cure.  If it is highly effective, then more people might consider it a cure.  Of course, if it doesn't work well or has limitations in how it can be used, then fewer people will consider it a cure.  But I'm happy to cover it for a clinical trial or two.

Joshua Levy 
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Verapamil Starts a Phase-II Trial

Soundtrack is "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" by ZZ Top:!/s/I+m+Bad+I+m+Nationwide/3OTEOT

Verapamil Starts a Phase-II Trial

Verapamil is a drug which has been used in the US since 1982 for high blood pressure, migraines, and heart problems.  It also lowers levels of a protein called TXNIP.  The researchers running this trial believe this is important because they believe TXNIP kills beta cells as part of the onset of type-1 diabetes.  So giving Verapamil should lower TXNIP which should improve beta cell survival, and stop type-1 diabetes.  In addition TXNIP is known to lower inflammation, and that might have an effect on type-1 diabetes as well. TXNIP worked in mice trials (but see discussion below).

Drs. Anath Shalev and Fernando Ovalle at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have started a clinical trial. They are enrolling 52 adult, honeymoon type-1 diabetics; half will be treated, half are a (double blind) placebo control group. Patients will get Verapamil for a year, at the same doses that it is commonly prescribed.  The primary end point is C-peptide levels after a meal. The researchers will also track several other outcomes: insulin usage, A1Cs, TXNIP, beta cell markers, glucose generation, and two measures of BG stability.  They expect to finish in July 2017, which breaks down to about 1 1/2 years to recruit all the patients, and 1 year to run the trial.

This study is funded by JDRF, and is being conducted at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact information is:
Tiffany H Grimes, RN    205-934-4112
Kentress Davison    205-934-4112  

Clinical Trial Record:
Mouse study:

Discussion and Opinions

There is a lot to like about this trial.  Using an already approved drug means they don't need to do a phase-I trial; they can start out with a larger group.  It also means if they report good results, off label use becomes a possibility, and could result in much faster availability.

I particularly like the list of outcomes these researchers will measure.  C-peptide (their primary outcome) is the surrogate end point recommended by the FDA for type-1 cures.  But they are also watching insulin usage, A1C numbers, and BG stability, which are of practical importance to people with type-1.  Finally, they are tracking several biochemical changes which should help them understand what is happening "on the inside".

On the downside, they are only recruiting adults.  That's unfortunate, because it will take them much longer to find 52 honeymooning adults, than 52 honeymooning children.  (I know that sentence only makes sense in the world of type-1 diabetes.)  Since the drug is already approved, it's too bad they could not include the people who are most likely to be in the honeymoon phase.  But Verapamil is typically prescribed for high blood pressure or angina, so I suspect there is not much experience giving it to children.

My Opinions About Those Mice....

These researchers have succeeded in preventing type-1 diabetes in mice, by treating during the mouse honeymoon.  But I don't put much stock in mice tests, because there have been so many treatments that have led nowhere in people.  Hundreds of cures in mice and (so far) no cures in people. However, the mice used in these tests were STZ mice, which I'm particularly nervous about. Basically, the researchers took healthy mice and injected them with a toxin (streptozotocin) which killed their beta cells.  These are are referred to as STZ-mice.  They are commonly used as an animal model of type-1 diabetes, however they do not have autoimmune diabetes.  In comparison NOD-mice, also used as an animal model of type-1 diabetes, do have autoimmune diabetes.

In my opinion, STZ-mice are fine for testing new insulins and pumps, and also for doing tests related to long term complications.  However, I don't think they are good models for testing cures, because they lack the ongoing autoimmune beta cell destruction which is the hallmark of real type-1 diabetes.

The danger is that even if Verapamil does cause the body to grow more beta cells, they will be destroyed by the autoimmune attack, and patients will not see any improvement.  This treatment could be combined with something that stops the autoimmune attack, and the combination might be a cure, but testing Verapamil alone is unlikely to give good results.  The researchers understand this; the interview with Dr. Anath Shalev makes that clear.  Her hope is that by carefully measuring BGs (using a CGM) and C-peptides, she will see a small improvement, which will have good health effects (even if it is not a cure).   My blog posting "The Value of a Few Beta Cells" discusses this point:
Also, a small improvement could provide the justification for a combination trial (Verapamil and an immune modulator/suppressor), and such a combination could be a cure in the future.

But in a certain sense, even discussing the mouse research is a waste of time, once the human trials have started.  Only the human trial results will matter moving forward.

Joshua Levy
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

HPV Vaccination and Type-1 Diabetes

There are 14+ studies showing that vaccines do not increase the chance of getting type-1 diabetes, and I've posted that list in the past. However, most of those studies were done before HPV vaccines were developed, so this posting focuses on HPV vaccines.

This posting covers the two HPV vaccines in common use in the US: Cervarix (made by GlaxoSmithKline) and Gardasil (made by Merck).  A vast amount of background information on HPV and these vaccines is available on Wikipedia:
Including HPV prevalence, death rates, etc.

Studies on HPV Vaccines and Type-1 Diabetes

It is important to remember that these vaccines are typically given to girls (and increasingly boys) at about 10-14 years old.  This is "prime time" for type-1 diabetes diagnosis as well.  So we should all expect stories that talk about someone who got an HPV vaccine and then came down with type-1 diabetes a few weeks later.  Occasionally, we'll even hear about stories where the person was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes the day of the vaccine, or maybe just a day or two later.  Because of blind bad-luck, and the relative number of people given the vaccine and diagnosed at the same time, you will see a few that overlap.

But the important question is this: do people who get HPV vaccines get type-1 diabetes at a higher rate, than those who don't?

The Huge Gardasil Study

A very large study was published in 2012, which looked at Gardasil and autoimmune diseases. It covered 190,000 people, and was done by an insurance company. Type-1 diabetes was one of the diseases they looked for specifically.

Here is the summary from the news coverage (bolding added):
They found no increase in any of 16 autoimmune disorders in the vaccinated population compared to a matched population of non-vaccinated girls and women. The 16 autoimmune disorders they looked for were:  "... immune thrombocytopenia, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto's disease, Graves' disease, multiple sclerosis, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, other demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system, vaccine-associated demyelination, Guillain-Barr syndrome, neuromyelitis optica, optic neuritis and uveitis."
I know some people are afraid that the same drug companies that sell the vaccine will also fund the studies showing they are safe. Having an insurance company run the study is much better. They are the people who pay for the vaccine, and they are the people who pay for any adverse side effects of the vaccine, so they are the best people to evaluate safety. Plus, they have the records to do it well. Not just anyone can review 190,000 patient records!


Large Cervarix Study

This was also a large study, about 18,000 people.  Type-1 diagnosis was specifically tracked as part of the trial's safety protocol, and the people were followed for 4 years.
In the Phase III trial, no differences were observed in the overall safety profile of the vaccine when administered to women aged 15–25 years with or without evidence of prior HPV-16/18 infection. [r3] 
Clinical Trial Record:

Don't underestimate the size (and therefore the power) of these studies.  Larger studies make it possible to detect smaller effects, and an 18,000 person study could detect even a very slight rise in the chance of a disease (and a 190,000 person study, even more so).  For comparison, phase-III studies, the largest required before a new drug is approved, are usually around 300 people for potential cures for type-1 diabetes. Obviously, both the Cervarix and Gardasil studies described above are vastly larger than that.  It's not a direct comparison, because phase-III studies are done on people who have type-1 diabetes already, while these were done on the general population.  Never the less, these are very large, powerful studies, and much larger than commonly used in testing potential type-1 diabetes cures.

Other Studies

You'll notice that there are no studies listed here that found HPV vaccines to cause higher rates of type-1.  That's because I could not find even one such study.  I looked for such a study in two ways. First, I looked for the Clinical Trials site which is run by the FDA and is required for all studies that are used for drug approval in the US.  Second I looked at "Google Scholar" which is Google's specialized academic paper search engine.  

In total, there were 60 Cervarix and 113 Gardasil studies listed on the FDA's clinical trial registry, and none of those found an increase in type-1 diabetes based on HPV vaccination.  Obviously, I did not read 170+ studies.  I did look through their titles, and then skimmed the abstracts of the ones that looked promising, and then read the abstract (or occasionally the whole paper) if the abstract looked like it contained applicable data.  I was not able to find one paper that suggested a higher rate of type-1 diabetes in people who got HPV vaccines as compared to people who did not.

This is a summary of information available in 2008 in this document:
Here is their data:
No increased risk of [new onset autoimmune diseases] was observed in the HPV-16/18 vaccine group compared with any of the control groups in any age group. ... The overall incidence of these events was low and within the range expected in the general population.  An integrated analysis [ie. review of many different studies] of over 68,000 subjects who received AS04-adjuvanted vaccines or controls demonstrated a low rate of autoimmune disorders (~0.5%), with no evidence of an increase in relative risk associated with AS04-adjuvanted vaccines. [r1]
New onset of autoimmune diseases (NOADs). ... No differences were seen in the frequency of NOADs between study groups in any age group during any follow-up period and no apparent clusters of events were detected . [r1]
In vaccinated girls aged 10–14 years, no withdrawals due to adverse events and no vaccine-related SAEs [serious adverse events] were reported over 24 months of follow-up after the first vaccine dose. [r2]

Common Complaints and Worries about HPV Vaccine Safety

A common worry that I hear is "these vaccines are not tested enough to know they are safe".

If this is an issue for you, ask yourself how many times a vaccine should be tested; in how many different clinical trials?   The FDA's answer to this question is "at least 4".  For the FDA, 4 clinical trials are the minimum level of testing (and not just for vaccines, for all new drugs).  As I said before Cervarix has already been tested in 60 separate clinical trials, and Gardasil in 113 trials.  Even if you would prefer a safety margin of 2x or 3x more trials than the FDA requires, these vaccines are way above that.

I sometimes hear people say "HPV vaccination has been associated with [bad effect X]..." 

Of course.   Every day, 100s of girls are given the HPV vaccination.  Just based on chance, some of those people are going to get the flu, get a bad grade, be diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, or be hit by a car, that very day!  (Or maybe the next week.)  With the large number of vaccinations given, even very rare events (like heart attacks and strokes in the young) are going to happen from time to time. That's what statistics are all about.

You will hear people say "I heard about person X, and they got rare cancer the week after an HPV vaccination".  They sure did.  If you vaccinate a million people a year, then some very rare things are going to happen.  In the case of HPV vaccines, there are two separate groups of people who will endlessly repeat any vague badness they can associate with HPV vaccination.  (One group is the anti-vaxxers, who object to all vaccines, and the other group is ultra conservatives, who object to vaccines against sexually transmitted diseases.)

A second issue is VAERS.  VAERS is a public database of medical events seen after vaccinations. Anyone at all can add events to VAERS.  They are not limited to entering effects on their own patients, and can enter cases where they don't know important facts.  There is no quality control or required fact checking.  VAERS was set up to find very rare side effects.  The hope was that if something very unusual happened, it would be stored in the database, and if it happened again, it could be investigated.  Unfortunately, the database is subject to manipulation, and in any case does not imply causation.  The following is a true story:

When HPV was first being used, I read in both Catholic and anti-vaccine web sites about HPV causing a girl's death.  They referred to VAERS reports.  I was able to find the report, and it went like this [4]:
VAERS ID 279592  2007-05-24
Administered by: OTH     Purchased by: OTH
Symptoms: Death Thrombosis
Information has been received from a licensed visiting nurse via a nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner was told by a friend that a female patient was vaccinated with Gardasil and two weeks after developed a blood clot. Subsequently the patient died. The cause of death was from the blood clot. The reporting licensed visiting nurse considered the blood clot to be immediately life-threatening and disabling. Additional information has been requested. [There was no additional information included.]
In this case, the report was not made by anyone who actually knew the subject.  Nor even by someone who knew someone who knew the subject.  The licensed visiting nurse then filed a VAERS adverse effect report, although she did not include the name of the patient (she did not know it), nor the vaccine dose, nor the date of the vaccination or death.  In the legal world, this would be hearsay twice over.  In the scientific world this is too vague to be useful.  Indeed, it's not clear the event actually happened at all.  There is no required fact checking of VAERS data, .

If you'd like to read more about VAERS and HPV data, you can look here:

But do we really know about HPV Vaccine safety, when children are getting so many other vaccinations?  What if a combination causes a problem?

It's the idea that since vaccines are tested one at a time, combinations of vaccines are not tested and might be dangerous.  It's wrong, because vaccines are not tested one at a time.  They are tested "on top" (or in addition to) a normal vaccination schedule.  So the testing covers the situation where all the vaccines are given.

When phase-III trials are run for a new vaccine, they are comparing a normal vaccine schedule plus the new vaccine, to a normal vaccine schedule. (As they should.) But if the new vaccine caused a bad interaction with the existing schedule, then it would certainly turn up in the clinical trial. Similarly, if there was some problem with the total number of vaccines, then again that would show up in the testing for HPV.

But HPV Vaccination is new, so how can long term problems be known?

I think there are two good answers to this worry.  The first is simple: HPV is generally given to pre-teens and teenagers.   Type-1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed just slightly later: in teenagers. Therefore, it makes sense that if there was a problem, it would show up in terms of higher type-1 diabetes rates within a few years (as the pre-teens who were vaccinated became teenagers who were diagnosed).  That hasn't happened.  Gardasil has been in use for over 8 years, and Cervarix for over 5 years, so it has now been enough time so vaccinated people would have progressed into the prime years for type-1 diagnosis.

If HPV caused or contributed to type-1 diabetes, we would see three strong signals: First when some girls started to be vaccinated, there should have been a "bump" in type-1 diagnosis.  There wasn't. Diagnosis continued to steadily grow at the same rate it has for decades.  Second, when the vaccine was officially recommended for girls, then again there should have been a corresponding "bump" in diagnosis for girls. This would have been particularly obvious, because it would have been in girls and not in boys. But it didn't happen. Third, when HPV was recommended for boys, then there would have been a corresponding "bump" a few years later.  Just in boys, so obvious to spot.  Again, it did not happen.

Bottom line: HPV has been in use long enough so that if it caused or contributed to type-1 diabetes, it would have been obvious (three times over), already.

A second answer to this worry, is to ask the person if Acai berries (or whatever the current health fad) have been tested "long enough"?  Has the person reviewed the long term safety tests for Vitamin-D supplements?  Organic food? A low fat diet?  The fact is that almost nothing in our lives is systematically tested for long periods of time.  If you think about it, you would need to run the test for a person's whole life to really be sure, and the results would only help the next generation, and only if nothing in the world had changed over those years to effect the results.  In short, "not tested long enough" is a bar nothing can reach, and one that is applied selectively to the things the worrier doesn't like.

More Information

SNOPES, which is a great general resource for "internet scare stories" has a good write up on Gardasil:

More References

[r1] Descamps D, Hardt K, Spiessens B, Izurieta P, Dubin G. Safety of human papillomavirus (HPV)-16/18 AS04 adjuvanted vaccine for cervical cancer prevention: integrated summary of 11 clinical trials. Presented at: 26th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases. Graz, Austria, 13–17 May 2008.

[r2] Schwarz TF, Descamps D. Long-term safety and immunogenicity of an AS04 adjuvanted cervical cancer vaccine in girls aged 10–14 years. Presented at: 26th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases. Graz, Austria, 13–17 May 2008.

[r3] Cruickshank M, Teixeira J, Gall S et al.; on behalf of the PATRICIA Study Group. Efficacy and safety of GSK's HPV vaccine in women initially seropositive or seronegative for HPV-16/18 in a Phase III trial. Presented at: EUROGIN: New Strategies of Cervical Cancer Prevention – the Reality of HPV Vaccines. Monte Carlo, Monaco, 4–6 October 2007 (Abstract SS1–2).

[r4] These examples are from anti-vaccine web sites:

Joshua Levy
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com 
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.