The Big Business of a Cure

The diabetes pharmaceutical industry is big business, and by “big business” I mean “big money.” Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on insulin, test strips, syringes, meters, etc. I am fortunate to get my son’s insulin and testing supplies free of charge through our insurance company (because as much as insulin and test strips cost, they are still cheaper than hospitalization for diabetic ketoacidosis caused by uncontrolled diabetes). Without insurance, however, our monthly pharmaceutical costs would be in the $3000 range–that is how much the insurance company pays Lilly and Roche for our supplies; costs to us, lowly consumers, would possibly be more.

Given how profitable diabetes is for pharmaceutical companies, many in the Type 1 community doubt the earnestness of those researching a cure. They believe finding a cure would not be in pharmaceutical companies best interests because a cure would cut into profits. So I wasn’t surprised by the many, many negative comments that accompanied an article that showed up in my Facebook feed about Johnson & Johnson collaborating with small, private company Viacyte on its stem cell-based cure. One reader wrote “Hopeful but skeptical. It doesn’t pay to find a cure…” Another wrote “Taking bets that Johnson and Johnson has ulterior motives and will stall the research now that it is involved with Viacyte.”

Honestly, all that pessimism was disheartening and, as much as I hate to say it, made me feel a bit empathetic toward J & J. (That’s something because I am still reeling from Martin Shkreli‘s 5,000% price hike when his company Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the patent for Daraprim, a drug that used in malaria, HIV, and cancer treatments).

Here are FIVE reasons we should all take heart and think positively about the Johnson & Johnson and Viacyte partnership:

  1. Johnson & Johnson was already a financial supporter of Viacyte, committing $20 million in August 2014 for the future right to evaluate transactions related to its stem cell trials (guess they exercised that right this week!)
  2. Viacyte comes out on top here, acquiring 145 patents and 565 pending patent applications belonging to Johnson & Johnson.
  3. Type 1 is personal for Johnson & Johnson. T1D runs in the Johnson family and Casey Johnson, great granddaughter of founder Robert Woods Johnson I, died of diabetic ketoacidosis (the result of blood glucose levels that are too high) in 2010. She stopped taking insulin.
  4. VC-01, Viacyte’s encapsulated stem-cell replacement technology, is already in phase 1 human trials and it is showing positive results. The FDA has expressed a willingness to fast track approval if all phases are as successful as anticipated.
  5. The VC-01 trial is being filmed for a documentary titled The Human Trial. Viacyte is giving filmmakers unprecedented access to trial participants, the lab, and the company’s research records. The film is backed by celebrities such as R&B artist Usher, and director/producer Lisa Hepner has plans to follow VC-01’s progress to its approval by the FDA. Lisa has lived with Type 1 for 22 years.
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