Johnson & Johnson has linked up with ViaCyte with a view to getting rights to the stem cell specialist’s investigational treatment for type 1 diabetes.

A deal has been inked giving J&J’s Janssen unit “a future right to evaluate a transaction” related to VC-01, a combination product ViaCyte is developing for type 1 diabetes which is based on the production of pancreatic progenitor cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells. Cashwise, ViaCyte has received $20 million, which includes a rights fee and a note convertible into equity at a later date, with the San Diego-based, privately-held group noting that J&J is already “a long-standing investor”.
Earlier this week, the US Food and Drug Administration accepted the company’s investigational New Drug Application  for VC-01 and ViaCyte plans to promptly initiate a Phase I/II trial which it believes to be “the first ever clinical evaluation of a stem cell-derived islet replacement therapy for the treatment of patients with type 1 diabetes”.

Encapsulation approach

The type 1 diabetes charity JDRF has, along with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, been working with ViaCyte on VC-01. The product gives people a stock of immature cells that are programmed to develop into insulin-producing cells - these are contained within a device, called Encaptra, that can be implanted into the body and acts as a protective bubble to keep the new cells safe from immune attack.

Karen Addington, chief executive of JDRF in the UK, said the charity “has made supporting encapsulation research a priority because we believe this approach could free people with type 1 from the physical and mental burdens of testing, carb counting and injecting or pumping insulin that are currently the norm”.

As well as getting the Janssen funding, ViaCyte recently raised $5.4 million in private equity financing and chief executive Paul Laikind said  “these important transactions provide us with additional resources we need to pursue the further development” of VC-01.