York helps to lead research to advance diabetes drug to clinical trials

Diabetes research York University Michael Riddell

A diabetes drug to prevent low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) will advance to clinical trials thanks to a US$3.9-million funding commitment to support the completion of pre-clinical activities required to bring the drug to clinical trials. York University researcher Michael Riddell is working closely with Zucara Therapeutics to advance these pre-clinical activities.

Michael Riddell
Michael Riddell

Riddell is a founding scientist of Zucara Therapeutics Inc., the diabetes life sciences company that is working to advance the first once-daily therapy for hypoglycemia prevention, and he is the Chair of their Scientific Advisory Board. He is also a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences and Muscle Health Research Centre, in the Faculty of Health.

Zucara Therapeutics Inc. announced April 9 it will receive the funding from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. As part of that agreement, Helmsley will provide funding for pre-clinical advancement of Zucara’s lead drug candidate “ZT-01,” which is focused on the prevention of hypoglycemia in people with Type 1 diabetes (T1D), with the potential also to treat people with other types of insulin-dependent diabetes.

Riddell oversees the Zucara experiments conducted at York University that test the efficacy of ZT-01, and is investigating how this novel drug candidate helps to prevent hypoglycemia in patients who are continuously taking insulin.

“York University is delighted with this news,” said York University Vice-President Research and Innovation Robert Haché. “As a founding scientist of Zucara Therapeutics Inc., Faculty of Health Professor Michael Riddell played a critical role in the development of this new therapy. The funding will effectively move the therapy one step closer to clinical trials, and ultimately to clients with Type 1 diabetes. More than 300,000 Canadians live with Type 1 diabetes. That’s impact.”

Hypoglycemia is a major barrier to safe and effective treatment with insulin in T1D, and is a common side effect of insulin therapy, as well as aerobic forms of exercise such as walking, cycling and jogging. Dangerously low blood glucose can lead to unconsciousness or even death, and is a frequent challenge for people with T1D and other types of insulin-dependent diabetes. Current methods of treating episodes of hypoglycemia include ingesting fast-acting carbohydrates or, in emergency situations, using injections of exogenous glucagon.

“At York University, we are specifically examining how this new drug improves the body’s hormonal responses to a dangerous and life-threatening drop in blood sugar that can occur with insulin treatment and this new potential class of therapy can be tested in a variety of settings, including exercise, accidental insulin overdose and hormone failure during hypoglycemia, which often occurs during long-standing diabetes,” said Riddell. “By helping to eliminate hypoglycemia using this new therapeutic, we expect that overall glucose control in diabetes can be improved.”

Riddell’s team at York has been working collaboratively with colleagues at the University of Toronto, Tulane University, the Centre for Drug Research and Development and MaRS Innovation, and this led to the creation of Zucara Therapeutics in 2014. The work originated with Riddell’s postdoctoral mentor Professor Mladen Vranic (Banting and Best Diabetes Centre, University of Toronto) and Dr. David Coy (Tulane University) in the late 1990s.

For more on this announcement, read the full press release issued by Zucara.