A genetic mutation common to Finnish populations has been found to protect against type 2 diabetes by increasing insulin in the blood, providing a potential target for new drugs.
The mutation is found in at least 0.2% of the population in western Finland, whereas it only appears in 0.02% of other European populations. The mutation was already known to protect people with the mutation against type 2 diabetes, but it hadn’t been clear how it does this until now.
A team of 50 researchers from the UK, Finland, Sweden, Italy, and the US used cell, animal and human studies to answer this question. According to results published in Nature Genetics, the mutation stops zinc from entering cells and locking down insulin. As a consequence, the cells release more insulin into the blood, where it can regulate blood sugar.
Increased knowledge about this mutation opens up a new target for treating type 2 diabetes. Drugs blocking zinc transporter proteins could mimic the mutation’s effects, resulting in higher insulin levels. The US biotech Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and big pharma Pfizer partly funded and also collaborated in the study, and might benefit from the treatment potential.
“The work is a collaborative effort bringing pharma and academia together and researchers from multiple European countries,” stated Anna Gloyn, who co-led the study as a Professor at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, UK. “It is a tour de force, since we were able to measure the impact of the mutation in many different systems, including human beta-cells.”
Any treatments that come out of this collaboration could tap into the huge type 2 diabetes market, which is predicted to hit €70B by 2026. Right now, diabetes treatments are limited to helping patients control their blood glucose, and include metformin and Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster liraglutide. It remains to be seen if this study could yield competitive treatments in this crowded market.
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