Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge round-up 2023

December 14, 2023
A photo of Sally and Steve Morgan at the 2023 DUKPC.

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is providing a vital boost for UK diabetes research to find new treatments and cures for type 1 diabetes, faster. We are rallying the brightest minds around the UK and beyond to find ways to transform quality-of-life for the millions of people worldwide who live with type 1.

During 2023, the values at the heart of the Grand Challenge, speed, innovation, collaboration and ambition, have been clear. We made our first funding awards to nine diabetes research teams with big ideas, investing over £18 million to accelerate progress. While we’ve also been building vital capability within the diabetes research landscape, and nurturing creativity and collaboration in our three research priorities.

Here, we highlight what we’ve made happen in 2023.

Readying the starting blocks

To ensure we fuel research with the greatest possible potential to change the lives of people with type 1 diabetes, we enlisted the help of the world’s leading type 1 diabetes research experts. They sit on our Scientific Advisory Panels and work tirelessly to make sure our funding calls attract the best researchers with the most promising ideas.

This year, we’ve launched five new calls – asking scientists to develop ambitious and innovative research proposals and apply for our funding in each of the three Grand Challenge areas.

In February, we launched the first of our funding calls to accelerate research into the root causes of type 1 and ways to replace insulin-making beta cells, so that new treatments can make a difference to people with type 1 diabetes sooner. Next, we announced our plans to establish a flag-ship beta cell production and distribution centre, to ensure a supply of stem cell-derived beta cells for researchers in the UK.

With ambition, innovation and collaboration at the heart of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, later in the year we called on scientists to push boundaries even further.  Our Novel Insulins funding call is currently open and calling for bold ideas and innovations in insulin-based medicines from both academics and small-medium sized businesses, working across a range of disciplines from biotechnology to pharmacology. While our Beta Cell Therapy Innovations call is open for applications too. It’s seeking high-risk, high-reward ideas and new perspectives to support visionary ideas that could transform the field if successful.

Building momentum and collaboration

To prepare the research community for the Grand Challenge’s new and exciting way of funding research, we hosted first-of-a-kind networking events.

In May we held a virtual symposium on novel insulins research. The symposium provided a platform for researchers, policy makers and industry experts from around the world to share insights and expertise on the latest breakthroughs in novel insulin therapies.

Then in November, we held a networking workshop with scientists with diverse expertise, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh ideas, with the potential to overcome the roadblocks holding back progress in beta cell therapy research.

£18 million awarded so far

The response from the scientific community this year has been staggering, giving our expert advisory panels of scientists and people with lived experience of type 1 plenty of pioneering proposals to rigorously scrutinise and review.

In March, we announced the first projects awarded by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge. £5 million went to three exceptional researchers, who become our first Senior Research Fellows. Dr James Cantley at the University of Dundee, will test new drugs to help people grow back their own beta cells. Dr Victoria Salem at Imperial College London,will develop a device that can be implanted into people with type 1 diabetes to deliver new beta cells. Professor Sarah Richardson at the University of Exeter, will explore how and why a person’s immune system destroys their own beta cells.

Then in December, we announced Grand Challenge funding of over £13 million for a further six research projects. Two of these projects will investigate how to tackle the immune system attack at the root of type 1 diabetes using promising new treatments, called immunotherapies, which could prevent or slow the condition. The remaining four projects will tackle the challenge of replacing insulin-producing beta cells. Three research teams will aim to improve the quality, functionality and survival of the beta cells we can develop in the lab, while the final team aim to make islet transplants from donors more effective.

Looking ahead to 2024

With the outstanding new research teams our funding has forged, in hand with wider collaborative community our panels, events and patient and public engagement work have built, the pace is set. In 2024, we’ll be announcing the first funding awards in the Novel Insulins research theme, along with the outcome of our call for innovative beta cell therapy ideas. We’ll also be reporting on progress from the groundbreaking research projects already underway. And we look forward to an exciting programme of activity that will continue to stimulate bold, innovative research at scale and create the change needed to improve the lives of millions of people with type 1 diabetes.

Keep your eye on the News and Views section of our website for live updates on the Grand Challenge.

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