The treatment, which could be available within three years, raises hopes that it will spare sufferers the daily ordeal of injecting insulin to stay alive.
Insulin is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels as food is digested. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels are highly dangerous, causing damage to major organs, and without regular insulin injections a diabetic would rapidly lapse into a coma and may die, reports The Daily Express.
Dr Adi Mor, of Tel Aviv University, said, "For the patient the drug is as good as a cure because it will allow the pancreas to continue to make insulin.
"Apart from having to take a daily pill, they would effectively not be diabetic because they would have a functioning pancreas." Initial trial results have just been published in the European Journal of Immunology and the European Journal of Pharmacology.
Mor adapted the drug, called FTS, from one in the final stages of human trials to treat pancreatic cancer. In cancer, the drug stops cells dividing and spreading the disease. In diabetes, research has proved the drug blocks killer T-cells in the immune system. These turn on the pancreas, destroying cells known as islets that release insulin.
Mor said, "We have already proved the drug is safe because of the trials in pancreas cancer. So we should be able to go straight to stage two and then stage three trials in
young people with type one diabetes.
"The drug protects the pancreas from immune system attack and allows it to go on making insulin," he said. The drug, so far tested on animals, has prevented diabetes in
80 per cent of rats given the treatment.
Mor said, "FTS has passed toxicity studies so it has the potential to fast-track through regulatory hurdles. A new drug for diabetes could be ready in as little as three years."