Toronto, ON and Vancouver, BC— A novel drug therapy to reduce the severity and frequency of hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes in people with diabetes is being developed by Zucara Therapeutics Inc.
This new start-up company, created by MaRS Innovation and The Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) is based on decades of diabetes research by renowned University of Toronto (U of T) professor, Dr. Mladen Vranic.
Zucara aims to develop a long-term therapeutic approach to prevent hypoglycemia in people with diabetes who are insulin-dependent; and in pre-clinical models, the company’s lead candidate shows great promise in restoring the body’s natural regulation of low blood sugar and reducing the severity or frequency of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is the limiting factor in successfully managing diabetes with insulin. Severe hypoglycemic episodes and resulting complications including cardiovascular effects, can be life threatening, and significantly affect both patients’ quality of life and the cost of care. Currently, no preventative therapy for hypoglycemia exists, leaving patients to rely on rescue therapies, such as glucose or glucagon, which can only be used after the patient is already suffering from a potentially dangerous hypoglycemic episode.
Dr. Mladen Vranic (Banting and Best Diabetes Center and professor emeritus in the Faculty of Medicine at U of T) and his research team developed compelling evidence that pancreatic cells, which regulate hypoglycemia by secreting glucagon, are impaired in diabetes by high somatostatin levels. His discovery, which was developed in collaboration with Drs. Michael Riddell (York University) and David Coy (Tulane University) uses novel molecules that block somatostatin receptors to restore the normal glucagon response to hypoglycemia which occurs commonly with insulin treatment in patients with diabetes.
“With years of scientific investigation and strong, validated evidence behind this technology, we are now preparing to move into human trials and make a real difference for patients suffering from hypoglycemia,” said Dr. Vranic.
“This new therapy has the potential to eliminate the fear of hypoglycemia in patients with diabetes,” said Riddell, professor, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health, York University. “This could be the first drug therapy to successfully address this unmet need, greatly improving the standard of care and reducing the burden of living with this disease.”
MaRS Innovation provided early assistance that enabled the investigators to begin to translate the academic research into a promising commercial technology, and partnered with Vancouver-headquartered CDRD which led the pre-clinical drug development work, successfully advancing the technology and enabling the establishment of Zucara.
“Zucara is developing what could be the next successful diabetes drug from Toronto-based researchers,” said Dr. Raphael Hofstein, president and CEO, MaRS Innovation. “Dr. Vranic was a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin, before going on to an illustrious career in diabetes research. One of his many discoveries led to the creation of Zucara. By incorporating the company, we are one step closer to bringing this promising technology to patients while further building the Canadian health sciences industry and maximizing the economic and societal return on public investments in health research.”
“The launch of Zucara Therapeutics is an excellent example of how many partners can work together, leveraging complementary strengths, and sharing risk and reward to translate and commercialize an innovative and much-needed therapeutic,” says Karimah Es Sabar, president and CEO of CDRD. “We are extremely proud of the work the CDRD team did to successfully incubate the technology and co-lead commercialization efforts alongside our partner MaRS Innovation.”
The technology’s development has been financially supported by MaRS Innovation, the JDRF, the CDRD Innovation and CDRD-Genome British Columbia Development Funds, and Proof of Principle Funds from both the CIHR and the Ontario Centres of Excellence.