Take two pills and call me… a compliant pancreas?
Yep, that’s the idea behind research a Philadelphia endocrinologist is spearheading with her biopharmaceutical startup Perle Bioscience, established about a year ago to continue the longtime endo’s mission to help people with type 1 diabetes become “insulin-independent.”
In the eyes of Dr. Claresa “Resa” Levetan, that would be accomplished by taking a pair of pills that would regenerate the insulin-producing islet cells and ward off any immune system attack that kills off those cells and leads to type 1. You may be starting an eye-roll here, thinking “false hope” and “diabetes snake oil.” But she doesn’t call it a cure, even though it might lead to cutting insulin doses completely, since you’d still have to take two pills a day for the rest of your life. Practicing for 20 years, Dr. Levetan created her startup research group in South Carolina to develop this treatment.
Actually, Levetan’s team first developed a drug candidate called Pancreate years ago and sold that as part of a potential $335 million deal to Sanofi in 2010, though nothing has materialized and Levetan says the company’s made a decision to pursue that for type 2s only. But instead of turning her back on this research, Levetan has carried on over the past decade, while weaving in enormous empathy for the patient’s plight garnered from her many years of practice. To me, it speaks volumes to hear her say the following:
“The pancreas is non-compliant — not the patient. And when doctors say to me that a patient is non-compliant, that is my signal that the physician doesn’t know diabetes. I believe more and more that I learn most about how to help my patients by listening. Most patients with diabetes are sick of being told what to do, when there isn’t any one treatment or one bit of advice that fixes the disease.”
Exactly! As someone who’s done his fair share of griping about doctors using “non-compliant” terminology, I’m a fan of Dr. Levetan’s already!
But if that’s not enough to give her some street cred in the Diabetes Community, then read on. We were fortunate to catch up with her recently and for the following Q&A about her work — past, present and where she hopes to see things go in the future.
DM) Tell us about yourself?
CL) I am an endocrinologist with a focused mission on insulin-independence, and I see patients and do research. My first job in diabetes was in 1984 working at the Diabetes Clinic at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, which was after medical school and internship at Emory School of Medicine. I then went back do an internal medicine residency and fellowship in endocrinology. I have done clinical research, basic science research, but have always practiced. Ironically, I have enjoyed practicing now more than ever because I see how despite all of the pumps, sensors, new insulins, etc., the struggles with diabetes are tougher now with insurance companies. I see more patients than ever who have insurance, who still can’t afford their insulin and supplies.