Media Releases

Canadian scientist honoured with prestigious international diabetes prize

April 24, 2014

TORONTO, ON — Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Pro­fes­sor Daniel Druck­er is the recip­i­ent of the 2014 Bant­i­ng Medal for Sci­en­tif­ic Achieve­ment Award from the Amer­i­can Dia­betes Asso­ci­a­tion. The pres­ti­gious hon­our, which is described by some as the Nobel Prize for dia­betes research, is a rare hon­our for non-Amer­i­cans. Druck­er is only the sec­ond Cana­di­an recip­i­ent of the award, which is named after the late U of T pro­fes­sor and co-dis­cov­ered of insulin, Sir Fred­er­ick Bant­i­ng. The oth­er recip­i­ent was U of T’s Dr. Mladen Vran­ic, an inter­na­tion­al­ly-respect­ed researcher who was the last post-doc­tor­al fel­low of Dr. Charles Best, anoth­er co-dis­cov­er­er of insulin.

“Daniel Druck­er has made huge con­tri­bu­tions to dia­betes research. As a clin­i­cian-sci­en­tist, he has a sharp focus on trans­lat­ing dis­cov­er­ies into new ther­a­pies that help those bat­tling dia­betes,” says Pro­fes­sor Gary Lewis, Direc­tor of the Bant­i­ng and Best Dia­betes Cen­tre at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

Druck­er is her­ald­ed as one of the fathers of incretin ther­a­py, which is used to treat Type‑2 dia­betes. Incretins are a class of gut-derived hor­mones that reg­u­lates the pro­duc­tion of insulin and food inges­tion. Drucker’s lab has pri­mar­i­ly focused on two types of incretin hor­mones: glucagon-like peptide‑1 (GLP‑1) and glu­cose-depen­dent insulinotrop­ic polypep­tide (GIP), and the enzyme that con­trols their inac­ti­va­tion, dipep­tidyl peptiddase‑4 (DPP4). GLP‑1 and GIP reg­u­late the pro­duc­tion of insulin. When food is ingest­ed, these hor­mones act to enable the body to pro­duce more insulin to help assim­i­late the ingest­ed sug­ar (glu­cose). Dia­betes can inter­fere with the abil­i­ty to han­dle glu­cose, caus­ing blood sug­ar to spike. By iden­ti­fy­ing the func­tion of these hor­mones, sci­ence from the Druck­er lab sup­port­ed the devel­op­ment of two new class­es of ther­a­pies now used to treat dia­betes, GLP‑1 recep­tor ago­nists and DPP4 inhibitors.

Com­ple­men­tary stud­ies from the Druck­er lab iden­ti­fied the actions of a relat­ed hor­mone, GLP‑2 which works to pre­pare the lin­ing of the intes­tine to absorb nutri­tion and main­tain the health and func­tion of the intes­tine. For peo­ple whose intestines may have been dam­aged or resect­ed, they are not able to absorb enough nutri­tion from food. As a result, they often have to be fed intra­venous­ly instead. Through a GLP-2-based drug ther­a­py (tedug­lu­tide) devel­oped by the Druck­er lab, the func­tion of the exist­ing intesti­nal tract can be improved and extend­ed, allow­ing patients to reduce or elim­i­nate their need to receive their nutri­tion through an IV.

Drucker’s focus on devel­op­ing drug ther­a­pies has been aid­ed by pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ships with many phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies — notably Mer­ck, which gave a $1.5‑million grant to the Lunen­feld Tanen­baum Research Insti­tute at Mt. Sinai Hos­pi­tal to fund train­ing for grad­u­ate stu­dents and post-doc­tor­al posi­tions in Drucker’s lab, and Novo Nordisk, which donat­ed $3‑million to estab­lish a chair in incretin biol­o­gy at the Bant­i­ng and Best Dia­betes Cen­tre.

“This is a great exam­ple of the col­lab­o­ra­tive rela­tion­ships that can exist between uni­ver­si­ties and the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try. Long after I’m gone, there will con­tin­ue to be peo­ple at U of T who will be con­duct­ing research in incretin biol­o­gy and dia­betes,” states Druck­er.

Druck­er is an Endocri­nol­o­gist and Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine in U of T’s Divi­sion of Endocrinol­o­gy, Depart­ment of Med­i­cine. He is also a Senior Inves­ti­ga­tor at the Lunen­feld-Tanen­baum Research Insti­tute at Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal and is the for­mer Direc­tor of U of T’s Bant­i­ng and Best Dia­betes Cen­tre. He holds the Cana­da Research Chair in Reg­u­la­to­ry Pep­tides and the inau­gur­al Bant­i­ng & Best Dia­betes Cen­tre-Novo Nordisk Chair in Incretin Biol­o­gy.

“Cer­tain­ly we all aim to do impor­tant work that has inter­na­tion­al impact. Receiv­ing this award is exter­nal val­i­da­tion and reflects not just my hard work, but real­ly hon­ours the work of my lab and the ded­i­ca­tion of our trainees and research asso­ciates who have con­tribute to our suc­cess,” says Druck­er.

“Daniel Drucker’s trans­la­tion work trans­forms sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies into new ther­a­pies for patients. His research into a fam­i­ly of hor­mones pro­duced in the pan­creas, gas­troin­testi­nal tract and brain has led to treat­ments not just for dia­betes, but also obe­si­ty and intesti­nal dis­or­ders. He is an out­stand­ing researcher and a won­der­ful exam­ple of the world-class fac­ul­ty that call U of T Med­i­cine home,” states Catharine White­side, Dean of the Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine.

“Toron­to is a great place to con­duct dia­betes research,” says Druck­er. “Every morn­ing we wake up and think, ‘Bant­i­ng and Best dis­cov­ered insulin in 1922 – what am I going to do today?’”

Druck­er will be rec­og­nized with this hon­or at the Amer­i­can Dia­betes Association’s 74th Sci­en­tif­ic Ses­sions, tak­ing place June 13–17, 2014, at the Moscone Cen­ter in San Fran­cis­co.



For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Liam Mitchell
Asso­ciate Direc­tor, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4672