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Supporting and Cultivating Innovation

We can never lose faith in the “Eureka” moments that bring innovation to life. Yes, as a science-driven company, we’re placing bets on medicines most likely to demonstrate meaningful efficacy benefits and acceptable safety profiles in rigorous clinical trials. But even after serving people with diabetes for almost a century, we have to appreciate that the next breakthroughs against this serious disease may come from a new researcher who believes pushing boundaries is the starting point and nothing extraordinary.

In many respects, these scientists are staking their futures on a dream, a radical idea, or simply because they see the world differently. And I believe we have a responsibility to support and cultivate their big ideas.

It’s one of many reasons why I am proud we support the American Diabetes Association initiative called Pathway to Stop Diabetes. Not just because I have type 1 diabetes and I’m a physician and father to a child with the disease, but because we know innovation comes from many places and from trying new ways to solve challenges.

In 2013, we put $7.5 million into a specific fund set up by the American Diabetes Association for this type of research. And the bet has already started to pay off. Last year’s 17 young investigators made notable progress. It’s not hard to imagine how these ideas will bring about new advances in the fight against diabetes and its complications:

  • Linking genetic and environmental factors to the development of type 2 diabetes
  • Innovating a "smart insulin" patch using nano-technology
  • Identifying a molecular trigger for the autoimmune attack that causes type 1 diabetes
  • Uncovering how diabetes causes blindness, among other complications

Awardee Stephen C.J. Parker, PhD, says he comes from a family with a “genetic signature on type 2 diabetes,” so his research to decode the genetic risk for the disease is one of the reasons he’s so excited about his work. “I believe my research will provide the critical links from genetic associations to target genes,” he says. “Looking forward, the high-throughput biological profiling and analysis approaches supported by my Pathway award will be closely tied to disease diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment and will therefore have a tremendous influence on medicine.”

You can read about Stephen and all the Pathway awardees and their projects in the program’s annual report on ADA’s website.

But what good is this progress if it can’t be shared in a meaningful way. Last year alone, these up-and-coming researchers published 40 papers and reviews and delivered 147 presentations, including many I attended at this year’s ADA Scientific Sessions.

But a huge benefit of being one of the sponsors for Pathway to Stop Diabetes is that we can collaborate and learn from these scientists as they work. (That’s not just an option for Novo Nordisk – any of the Pathway sponsors can work with this talent.) The program finds talent from all backgrounds (a former NASA aerospace engineer was among the previous awardees!); however, they’re all eager to jumpstart their independent research careers and appreciate the funding they might not otherwise get from traditional sources.

We’ve re-upped our investment to sponsor Pathways at $2.5 million a year for the next three years. This year, out of 100 applications from academic centers across the U.S., six more researchers were named as Pathway award recipients, each receiving up to a $1.625 million grant to pursue an innovation of their choosing. We may not see the payoff immediately, but I am confident this is an investment that’s worth the wait.

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