On a recent trip to the East Coast, Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. CEO Ted Greene sat next to a physician/investor specializing in diabetes. The doctor had never heard of amylin, a pancreatic hormone being developed by the San Diego company. Greene explained the company's theory about the role of amylin in diabetes, to which his seatmate replied, according to Greene, that the theory made sense and he wondered why he'd never heard of it.

Greene took away two lessons from that encounter: clinicians, even specialists, can't keep up with new developments in medicine; and the hormone as the missing link in the diabetes disease model rings a bell with people who treat patients.

A great deal of information about whether that theory is right or wrong should be forthcoming at the American Diabetes Association meeting on June 12, where AMLN will present data from a series of Phase II studies.

New life to field

Until the discovery of amylin in 1987, diabetes research had been almost moribund, with most efforts focused on modest improvements in the administration of insulin. Despite treatment with insulin and sulfonylurea compounds, diabetics continue to suffer from life-threatening acute and long-term complications and shortened life spans. "Diabetes has been a research backwater, because they were stymied," said Greene. "There hadn't been any new therapeutic targets in 40 years."

Although AMLN is focused on a single hormone, the company's development path is intended to mitigate some crucial risks: