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Close Concerns: A Conversation with Kelly Close

Sharing her T1 diagnosis and how she formed her own company

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

If you’ve attended a diabetes-related conference, chances are very good that Kelly Close (or one of her Close Concerns teammates) was there too. Between her work with Close Concerns and diaTribe® News, Kelly is a mainstay anywhere diabetes research, advocacy and awareness is making the news. Today I’d like to share a little bit about her background and how she manages to seemingly be in so many places at once.

Kelly Close
Kelly Close

Kelly was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the mid-1980s, in her freshman year in college. She exhibited several of the classic symptoms: excessive thirst and urination, fatigue and weakness. In fact, she was so weak the day she was diagnosed, she had to call campus security to help her get to the health services office. Very scared and weighing in at just 89 pounds, instead of her usual 105, Kelly described her symptoms to Dr. Ingeborg van Pelt, who told her she was a textbook case of type 1 diabetes. When the doctor informed her she’d have to be hospitalized, Kelly told her, wishing it could be so, that she “couldn’t possibly” have diabetes; she had a formal to attend that night.

Regardless of the formal, to the hospital she went, where she practiced injecting into an orange. “This was back in the day,” she said. “I took the same amount of insulin in the morning and at dinner, no matter what I was eating, no matter what my blood sugar level was, no matter if I had or hadn’t exercised, no matter how stressed I was at the time. It was unbelievable.” Between 1986 and 1996, she went to the emergency room 24 times for severe hypoglycemia.

After college, Kelly worked on Wall Street for three years. Then when she finished business school in 1995, Kelly was hired by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. “I got to work with major pharmaceutical companies who were working on diabetes,” she said. “I was able to provide the patient perspective for the cases I worked on. I also loved the writing aspect of the job.”

Kelly wound up leaving that position to work on Wall Street, again, though this time in equity research rather than the trading floor and the Executive Offices, where she had spent the early 1990s. “Equity research was an area in Wall Street where you could use writing skills,” she said. “I found an opening in healthcare and was fortunate to write about diabetes-related companies among other broader healthcare companies. In fact, Vivian Wohl gave me my first and most important equity research position. Her firm is now the top shareholder in several diabetes companies. I was incredibly lucky to work for her and learn from her, as well as many other mentors, especially top women in finance.”

In 2002, Kelly left Wall Street to form a healthcare advisory company, Close Concerns, with her savings from Wall Street and lots of encouragement from her husband, John, and her father, Patrick, who was very ill at the time (he died three months later) and he encouraged her to leave and chase her dreams. She was the only employee. “I just decided that I love working with diabetes companies,” she said. “I have a vision for being able to help give them more of a patient perspective, especially in regards to therapies, technology and relations with healthcare providers. I know a few who could speak to challenges with HCPs specifically when living with diabetes. We actually were profitable from our very first month because the overhead was very low and we were very focused on value. It was just me and my brain, working out of my tiny home office.”

When Kelly first started reporting on and analyzing the diabetes industry in 2002, she wrote about 14 public companies and eight conferences globally. “Today we write about 70 public companies and attend well over 50 scientific, regulatory and advocacy meetings a year,” she said. “That shows you how much things have ballooned. As impossible as it may seem to imagine, there are now more than 370 million people globally with diabetes, compared to when I was diagnosed, when there were roughly 30 million. With that increase, the revenue of the industry has nearly tripled.”

The company has since evolved to incorporate a team of associates. In 2004, Kelly put together an associate training program, comprised primarily of students who would go on to pursue medical, Ph.D., public health and business degrees. “This year we had over 100 applications for every spot that we filled in the full-time program,” she said. “We hired eight summer associates, which feeds into our full-time program. We are graduating people from our program who speak incredibly intelligently about the public health issues of diabetes and obesity.”

The team, led by Kelly along with her husband John, works closely together at conferences, events and on journal articles, synthesizing the information into reports sent out to professionals as well as patients. “We are lucky to have this amazing brain trust we get to see and talk to and interact with every day,” she said. “These are absolutely going to be the stars in life sciences and healthcare one day, and it’s a real privilege to know them.”

The diaTribe newsletter is part of the diaTribe Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization funded by a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and is manned by one full-time employee, managing editor Nancy Liu, who is also secretary on the diaTribe Foundation board, chaired by Kelly, plus co-managing editor Adam Brown, who serves a dual role as chief of staff at Close Concerns. “That’s our most important work,” she said, “gathering all of the information we learn every day for our clients and reporting on the most important pieces for patients. It’s been wonderful to have our managing editor Nancy who is exclusively focused on that. That’s been a big change just in the last year and we’re incredibly grateful to The Helmsley Charitable Trust to be a grantee. To us, they are changing the entire landscape of diabetes and it’s been phenomenal to have their support and learn so much from them.”

Besides access to a wide variety of information and events, the Close Concerns team also participates in several workplace wellness initiatives. “Wellness is huge in our company,” Kelly said. “We do walking meetings and we have a treadmill desk that’s in high demand. Many of our associates stand while they work rather than sit, though I can’t claim this yet! We have Community-Supported Agriculture delivery of fresh food every single week. We pay for gym memberships and meditation classes. We offer monthly incentives if teammates walk or ride their bike to work; we also do little things like pay for bike helmets. We would like to be able to focus on anything in the company that people feel can help make them healthier.”

If it’s happening in the world of diabetes, Kelly and her team have their fingers on it. I applaud Kelly’s tenacity and determination to stay informed and lend insight to all of us, both on the industry and community sides of things, while also encouraging the health and broader education of her teammates. Many thanks to Kelly for sharing her story.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Kelly Close received no compensation for this post. Close Concerns has received compensation for services from Sanofi US. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

diaTribe is a registered service mark of Close Concerns Inc.

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