Lecture on the Successful Development of a Diabetes Drug

The successful development of a new diabetes drug – an SGLT2 inhibitor – from the test tube to the patient was presented in a fascinating lecture by Professor William Washburn at Helmholtz Zentrum München. The lecture was organized by the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), the Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC) and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

More than 60 scientists of the DZD and the HDC listened with great interest as Professor Washburn talked about the world of industrial pharmaceutical research and followed his presentation on the development of dapagliflozin, an SGLT2 inhibitor manufactured by the company Bristol-Myers Sqibb /AstraZeneca. Until the beginning of 2014, Washburn was head of research programs in the area of diabetes and obesity at Bristol-Myers Sqibb. As chemist he was responsible for the development of the molecule of this new class of diabetes drugs.
Researchers had long sought to inhibit the reabsorption of glucose in the kidney as a mechanism for lowering blood sugar levels. However, the only known substance with this effect, phlorizin, was not suited as a drug candidate due to its non-specific action. With his team, Washburn succeeded in rearranging the chemical structure so that renal glucose reabsorption from the urine is exclusively inhibited, and thus significant amounts of glucose are excreted in the urine. This leads to a reduction in blood glucose levels. After more than ten years of research and development, the drug is now available to patients.
The German Center for Diabetes Research pursues a translational research approach in which close cooperation between basic and clinical researchers shall facilitate the fastest possible transfer of research results into practice. Events such as this lecture and collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry help DZD scientists to orient their research work on potential future medical applications.