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Merck Acquires SmartCells, A JDRF-funded Company

December 9, 2010

Pharmaceutical company, Merck & Co., Inc. announced it will acquire SmartCells, Inc., a private biotech developing a glucose-responsive insulin whose proof-of-concept preclinical trials were partially funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). SmartCells’ product for the treatment of diabetes is designed to be a once-a-day injection that will maintain continuous, tight control of blood glucose levels while reducing the risk of hypoglycemia – like the pancreas does automatically in the absence of diabetes.

“This is exciting news for the diabetes research field and for JDRF. We believe this novel technology may lead to a practical solution to the real needs of people with diabetes,” said Dr. Richard Insel, Chief Scientific Officer at JDRF. “We are pleased to see that SmartCells’ technology has attracted the support of a leading pharmaceutical company that has the capacity to translate this opportunity to patients,” added Insel.

JDRF funds critical gaps in the type 1 diabetes drug and device pipeline by supporting discovery and proof-of-concept research for innovative ideas that might otherwise remain unexplored.  This is the sixth time that an early-stage product supported by JDRF has attracted the attention of industry, which has the expertise and resources to bring novel technologies to patients as quickly as possible. From 2008 to 2010, JDRF provided significant financial support – a total of over $1.5 million in funding – to the early-stage development of SmartInsulinTM.

“A measure of JDRF’s success is identifying and advancing promising research that may benefit people with type 1 diabetes,” says Dr. Karin Hehenberger, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances at JDRF. “Merck’s acquisition of SmartCells is an example of exactly this. A potentially transformational innovation has now been taken up by a large pharmaceutical company thanks in part to our support. This acquisition adds important financial and drug development capabilities to this promising glucose-responsive insulin.”

Biotechnology companies often face challenges in advancing novel therapies beyond the initial stages of research. Through its Industry Discovery and Development Program (IDDP), JDRF identifies unique technologies that would not be advanced otherwise and partners with companies to test concepts and bring better treatments and therapeutics leading to a cure to patients faster. To date, JDRF has funded type 1 diabetes projects at 30 companies, committing approximately $72 million in research funding.

“Our funding to SmartCells was an important step in what has become the JDRF Insulin Initiative,” noted Dr Sanjoy Dutta, Director of Glucose Control research at JDRF. “We are focused on supporting an effort towards the development of faster-acting insulins, other glucose-responsive insulins and novel therapies that will help people with diabetes maintain glucose control with less effort.”

Diabetes is a large and growing challenge with as many as 3 million people in the United States living with type 1 diabetes and another 30,000 are newly-diagnosed each year.  A recent CDC modeling report indicated that as many as one in three individuals could have diabetes, either type 1 or 2, by the year 2050. Better treatments are desperately needed to help people live better with the disease today as research continues toward an eventual cure.

About JDRF
JDRF is a leader in setting the agenda for diabetes research worldwide, and is the largest charitable funder of and advocate for type 1 diabetes research. The mission of JDRF is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that strikes children and adults suddenly, and can be fatal. Until a cure is found, people with type 1 diabetes have to test their blood sugar and give themselves insulin injections multiple times or use a pump – each day, every day of their lives. And even with that intensive care, insulin is not a cure for diabetes, nor does it prevent its potential complications, which may include kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, stroke, and amputation. To help improve the lives of people with type 1 diabetes while working toward a cure, one of JDRF’s research goals is to support research to develop products that can dramatically improve blood glucose control in people with type 1 diabetes so they can live healthier lives with less risk of developing disease-related complications.

Since its founding in 1970 by parents of children with type 1 diabetes, JDRF has awarded more than $1.5 billion to diabetes research, including more than $107 million last year. More than 80 percent of JDRF’s expenditures directly support research and research-related education.
Article from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation national website.

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To learn more about the JDRF Dallas chapter, visit our JDRF Dallas website!

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