Evotec, Sernova in partnership to develop beta cell diabetes therapy


Evotec and Sernova are set to join forces to advance a beta cell replacement therapy to treat insulin-dependent diabetes. As part of the deal, Evotec will make a €20M equity investment in Sernova.

Germany-based Evotec and Canada’s Sernova have agreed on a partnership to develop and commercialize an implantable diabetes therapy based on beta cell replacement.

The companies aim to combine Evotec’s cell-cluster production with Sernova’s implantable cell pouch device to produce an off-the-shelf treatment that could end the need for insulin injections.

“We’re getting closer and closer to making a functional cure for insulin-dependent patients a reality,” Cord Dohrmann, Evotec’s chief scientific officer, told us. “We’re extremely excited and optimistic.”

The goal is to be able to treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

In type 1 diabetes, beta cells are destroyed by the immune system, and patients require regular life-long injections of the glucose-lowering hormone insulin. In type 2 diabetes, beta cells are functionally impaired, and the deterioration of the cells can eventually create a need for insulin injections.

Beta cells are found in clusters of hormone-producing cells (‘islets’) within the pancreas. They respond to elevated blood glucose levels by secreting insulin.

At present, there is no cure for diabetes, and only symptomatic treatment options are available. Regular injections of insulin, however, can’t fully mimic the control of blood glucose levels by beta cells that is necessary to avoid complications, such as foot and eye problems.

It’s estimated that 537 million people worldwide suffered from diabetes in 2021, with 643 million likely to be suffering from the condition by 2030, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

Around 90% of people with diabetes have the type 2 form of the condition, while around 8% have type 1, and the remainder have rarer types.

Drug discovery and development company Evotec produces human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based beta cells through a scalable bioreactor process. Clusters of the cells are able to normalize blood glucose levels over several months. 

iPSC cells are a type of pluripotent stem cell that can be generated directly from adult cells. It’s their ability to propagate indefinitely that has led scientists to hold out hope for their potential in regenerative medicine.

Regenerative medicine therapeutics company Sernova has already seen long-lasting therapeutic results in diabetes patients in a phase I/II clinical trial of its cell pouch.

Replacing lost beta cells has long been a focus for diabetes research. In 2010, Evotec acquired DeveloGen, a metabolic disease company and spinout from the Max-Planck Institute in Germany that had been focused on regeneration of these cells.

“It’s an area we’ve been committed to for a long, long time,” saidDohrmann. He envisages the cell pouch device being implanted for up to several years at a time, and also sees the potential for other follow-on products from the partnership with Sernova.

Once the device is commercialized, there will be a profit-sharing arrangement between the two companies, with the split dependent upon Evotec’s participation in the clinical development program.

“What I’m really excited about here is that we have already shown that we can provide a functional cure with the cell pouch and the human-donor islets in a number of patients,” Philip Toleikis, Sernova’s president and chief executive, said in a conference call.

“We see this as a relatively de-risked program already since we have been working together,” he said.

Other areas of diabetes research have focused on prevention, including looking at how immunotherapy could stop and prevent type 1 diabetes, and how silica powder in the gut could prevent type 2 from developing.

23 May 2022: Correction to spelling of the name Dohrmann.rnrnCover image via Shutterstock

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