The American Diabetes Association (a.k.a. the Association) does some amazing work in terms of advocacy and diabetes research, and we’re proud to have worked with them on several occasions. We were fortunate to have the Association’s CEO, Larry Hausner, address Sanofi US employees on World Diabetes Day this year. I was able to spend a few minutes with him that day to learn more about their priorities and programs for the coming year.
Q: What led you to the American Diabetes Association?
A: I have an MBA in marketing and was led here unintentionally. In the middle of my career, with no experience in non-profit work, I received the opportunity to join the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It sounded really exciting and I thought I would do it for a year or two at the most. But when I started my position at the Society I began to love the work and was there for about 15 years, eventually serving as Chief of Staff. I left to work with a startup company that was trying to increase awareness of cancer clinical trials by directly reaching out to patients. It was a great concept that was ahead of its time and unfortunately the model didn’t work. After that, I moved to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as Chief Operating Officer and was there for about five years before the opportunity came up at the American Diabetes Association. I looked at it as a challenge to build awareness for diabetes which has become an epidemic in this country. I’ve been here for five years now.
Q: Do you have any personal connections to diabetes?
A: Yes, when I was a teenager, one of my uncles started coming over for dinner at our house every night because he was having some problem with his eye sight and didn’t like to cook anymore. No one ever talked about the cause, just that he couldn’t see well. Then he had problems with his foot, which led to a foot being amputated and then later losing his leg below his knee. At this point he was almost completely blind and nobody ever mentioned that all of this was a result of complications associated with diabetes. When I received the opportunity to work with the Association, it hit home what life could have been like for him, and what life could still be like for many others today. I look back to my uncle and want to help others face those challenges.
Q: What are your top priorities for the Association in 2013?
A: First, we want to expand the field of diabetes research through our core research program as well as our Pathway to Stop Diabetes program which starts in 2013. We also need to expand our advocacy efforts to make sure we continue to get a fair share of dollars for diabetes research from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Our second priority is to increase the awareness around the seriousness of diabetes as a disease. When someone tells another person they were diagnosed with diabetes, often the reaction is, “At least it’s not cancer or heart disease. It’s diabetes.” We want to get to the point where people understand that this is a serious disease that may result in serious complications if not properly managed. We also need to make sure we don’t scare people; it’s a very fine line.
Our third priority is to try and improve outcomes for people living with diabetes and pre-diabetes. We need to help people understand what they need to do to manage their disease. If they exercise and eat right, things may be better. We also need to build awareness for the prevention of type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, seventy-nine million people have pre-diabetes in the U.S. If those with pre-diabetes exercise five times a week, 30 minutes a day, there’s research from the National Diabetes Prevention Program that shows that diabetes can be prevented or delayed in more than half of the people who would otherwise develop it. Those are some big numbers.
Q: Can you tell us more about Pathway to Stop Diabetes?
A: We announced the Pathway to Stop Diabetes earlier this month. We’re beginning the recruiting process to have Pathway scientists in place by the end of 2013. We’re really happy to say that Sanofi US provided the first sponsorship of $7.5 million to help us launch the program. Sanofi is a visionary sponsor of this program and provided founding support.
We started this program because we noticed that young scientists who might want to pursue diabetes research are instead entering other fields because the research funds are being allocated elsewhere at a higher rate. These young, creative scientists typically spend about 75 percent of their time writing grants, and about 25 percent on science. The Pathway to Stop Diabetes program will give these scientists the opportunity to stay in this field for a longer period of time by providing five-year grants instead of the normal two to three-year grants. This will give researchers some stability early in their careers to focus on their work rather than writing grants. We will also give them the opportunity to work with a Mentor Advisory Group, which will provide scientific and career advice at strategic points in their careers.
Q: You mentioned needing to ensure a fair share of dollars for diabetes research from NIH and other government agencies. Can you tell us why that’s important?
A: Right now there’s a discrepancy between the amount of dollars that goes toward diabetes research versus the number of people that live with this condition. Currently of all the money the NIH spends on research, about $5.5 billion goes to cancer, $3.5 billion to AIDS and $1 billion to diabetes. I’m not looking to take somebody else’s dollars but I do want to get an appropriate amount so that we can address this epidemic. Based on the latest cost analysis report from the Association, the estimated cost for diabetes care is $174 billion a year for those diagnosed with diabetes in the United States. If you add in those who are living with undiagnosed diabetes and pre-diabetes, it goes up to $218 billion. We can’t continue this way. The CDC says by 2050 one in three adults in this country will have diabetes if current trends continue. It is totally unacceptable for any of us to allow this to happen. We should focus on research for a cure for type 1 diabetes and preventative measures for type 2 diabetes.
I’m so proud that Sanofi US is at the forefront of the Pathway to Stop Diabetes program in partnership with the American Diabetes Association. This strongly aligns with our efforts to advance science and innovation through new models of collaboration with patients, advocates and other partners. I look forward to the research findings that come out of it. My thanks to Larry for taking time to share his insider’s view of the American Diabetes Association.
Sr. Director, Partners in Patient Health
Disclosures: Larry Hausner received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
The American Diabetes Association has received sponsorship funds from Sanofi US.