By Aaron J. Kowalski, Ph.D.
President and CEO, JDRF
I don’t remember a time when type 1 diabetes (T1D) was not part of my family’s life. When I was six, my brother Steve was diagnosed, and when I was 13, I was too. Recently, at a gathering of staff and volunteer leaders from across the country, I gave my first “State of the Foundation” address reflecting on how far we’ve come and what we must do to accelerate progress.
People with T1D are living longer, healthier lives, with fewer complications. New technologies are improving outcomes and easing the 24-7-365 burden of the disease. And groundbreaking science is bringing us closer to cures than ever before. All these advances happened because of you – our T1D champions – both volunteers and staff.
We are at the cusp of enormous opportunities to further JDRF’s mission to improve lives and find cures for T1D. We must innovate faster and get these innovations into the hands of our loved ones sooner.
Progress Moves Forward
First, we can all be proud of advances we’ve made that make life with T1D easier today than it was 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. The burden of day-to-day life with T1D is lighter because artificial pancreas systems, more advanced forms of insulin, and other technologies, such as continuous glucose monitors, are helping us reduce dangerous high and low glucose levels.
We’ve also raised more than $2 billion so far, and our advocacy has resulted in another $3 billion of federal funding directed to T1D research. We are now the world’s largest philanthropic funder of T1D research. Your dedication is key to our success.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in New York City on a beautiful Saturday morning for our One Walk. I thought it was an early morning, but it turns out chapter staff had been there setting up since 2:00 in the morning! We see similar dedication around the nation as our volunteers take a Bag of Hope to a newly diagnosed family, or walk, run, or bike to raise money for research.
Urgent Work Ahead
But there is still much that we need to do. Despite the advances, only one in three adults — and only one in five children in the United States — achieve the recommended glucose targets. That’s not acceptable. T1D remains a very difficult disease to manage and live with every day. And too many people with T1D, here and abroad, face unacceptable barriers to getting — or paying for — basic care, including life-saving insulin.
Focus on Cures
The need for cures for T1D is urgent, and we are seeing exciting advances that I want to tell you about. We are focusing on two promising windows of opportunity: beta cell therapies and immune therapies. These windows of opportunity have emerged from years of investment in research made by JDRF and by JDRF partners, such as the National Institutes of Health.
We now are able to create insulin-producing beta cells. We are in multiple human clinical trials. Meanwhile, several large pharmaceutical companies have put these potential beta cell interventions on commercial pathways. For example, the exciting cell therapy from Semma Therapeutics, supported by JDRF and the JDRF T1D Fund, is now being commercialized by Vertex.
We also are seeing incredible progress in immune therapies, also critical in preventing and curing T1D. This summer we saw a major step forward when the drug teplizumab was shown in early clinical trials to delay onset of T1D for over two years in people at high risk. JDRF played a pivotal role in this advancement, supporting direct research into the compound; advocating for the NIH Special Diabetes Program, which funded the phase 2 trial; invested, through the T1D Fund, in a company that owns that asset; and engaging with the FDA on regulatory pathways for this class of drugs.
This is how JDRF makes a difference — across the entire pipeline, from basic research all the way into the hands of our loved ones.
Committed to Improving Lives
As we advance cures, we are working just as hard to improve lives today. We continue to push on innovation in new devices and technology, including next-generation CGMs and AP systems. JDRF’s scientific, regulatory, and health policy leadership over the last decade helped drive the development of devices that improve glucose control and ease the burden of living with T1D.
Currently, great progress is being made as a result of our Open Protocol Initiative, which will allow people to connect their preferred devices even if made by different companies. We continue to advance new types of insulin and drugs that can help control blood sugar levels — and we’ll continue to provide support to help those of us with T1D manage living with this unrelenting disease.
JDRF Advocacy Drives Change
For the past several months, our team in Washington, D.C., has been working day and night with elected officials from both parties to pass the Special Diabetes Program.
We also need to make sure that all these great advances make it into the hands of those who need them. No one should have to ration insulin — and risk their lives — to make ends meet. No one should have an insurance company tell them which pump or artificial pancreas system they can use. It’s why we are not relenting with our Coverage2Control campaign.
Continuing to Build Our Community
Today we are a united team of scientists, staff members, elected officials, doctors, donors, advocates, allies, friends and family. A top priority of mine is to engage with even more people. My goal is to get people from all over the world helping us drive our mission.
I do know this: all that we have done is because of you … and all that we will do starts with you. I know that because I have seen it — not just as a researcher and JDRF executive, but also as a kid with T1D, diagnosed at age 13. And if we want a future where no child will ever have to sit in class worried they might pass out from a low … or scared that they may be teased … or terrified that they may not be able to do what they dare to dream … then we will need all of you. We need you to engage more people. We need you to inspire more neighbors to action. And — yes — we need you to raise more money.
Then we will create a world where living with T1D is easier — and one where we finally develop the cures our loved ones need and hope for.
Watch the State of the Foundation address here: