I'm not sure how I missed this one last Spring, but a certain Dr. Alessio Fasano of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore helped kick off some super-exciting research on a pill that could "put an end to off-limits foods for diabetics and celiacs."
The pill, which works by decreasing the permeability of the intestines, is being developed by a spin-off startup company called Alba Therapeutics, where Dr. Fasano serves as a board member.
The capsule they're designing is taken 20 minutes before each meal, so that the active ingredient, AT-1001, can be slowly released in the intestine, where it inhibits the action of the protein zonulin. Zonulin regulates intestinal permeability, and is apparently overproduced in people with auto-immune diseases like diabetes and celiac disease. Taking AT-1001 should restore the barrier function of the intestinal wall.
One original story also quoted Fasano as saying, "If everything goes to plan, we could have a product on the market by the end of 2006." Wow! The anti-gluten intolerance pill we've been waiting for! So what's up with this wonder pill?
I reached Dr. Fasano by phone on Monday to get the scoop. (A pill like that could change mine and many thousands of lives, of course.)
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"I don't know where they got that information about a product this year. That was a misquote," Dr. Fasano says. "What I told them was, we could have clinical trials underway by the end of this year, and we're actually a little ahead of schedule there."
In fact, in current Phase 2 studies, more than 70 celiac patients are testing the pill that will hopefully offset the effects of this disease -- a chronic intolerance to gluten, which requires a lifelong avoidance of products made with wheat (a humungeous pain in the ass, to say the least).
Did you know that nearly 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease? It's also chronically underdiagnosed in Type 1 diabetics (since the two are often paired -- witness: me) Check out more info at the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.
"I believe that it is going to be the case that restoring the intestinal barrier will mean that those prone to developing diabetes or celiac disease can eat a normal diet," Fasano has said. The next round of research should be with Type 1 diabetics, he tells me.
OMG, sign me up. This is huge. A potential life-changer for sure.
But as usual, "time to market is totally unpredictable" based on the outcome of the current studies, Fasano says. Still, Alba's pill is worth keeping an eye on because this remedy is in "the most advanced stage of research" of any other treatment of its kind (!)