SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A drug designed to block the advance of type 1 diabetes in its earliest stages is strikingly effective in the phase 2 clinical trial, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jeffrey Bluestone, co-leader of the research at UCSF, said patients who benefited most were those who still had relatively good control of their blood sugar levels and only a moderate need for insulin injections when the trial began.

The findings are published online in the journal Diabetes, and will appear in the November issue of the print edition.

With the experimental drug, teplizumab, the study participants were able to maintain their level of insulin production for a full two years — longer than with most other drugs tested against the disease, Bluestone said in a statement. He collaborated in developing the drug.

However, the treatment did not benefit all patients — about half or more lost their ability to produce insulin — a drop similar to many of the controls not receiving the drug.

Reasons for the different responses are unclear, but likely involve differences in the metabolic condition of the patients and in the severity of their disease at the trial’s start, the researchers said.

“The benefits of treatment among the patients who still had moderately healthy insulin production suggests that the sooner we can detect the pre-diabetes condition and get this kind of drug onboard, the more people we can protect from the progressive damage caused by an autoimmune attack,” said Bluestone.

Formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes because it disproportionately strikes children, type 1 diabetes is caused by an auto-immune condition in which the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, Bluestone explained.

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)

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