Interview with JDRF President
Jeffrey Brewer Highlights JDRF's New Direction, Thoughts on the Cure, and Progress on the Artificial Pancreas Project
By: Adam Brown, Joseph Shivers, and Kelly L. Close
We were honored to sit down recently with Jeffrey Brewer, the new President and CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Mr. Brewer is the founder of two highly successful online businesses: Overture Services (acquired by Yahoo), where he served as CEO; and CitySearch (now a division of USA Interactive), where he was Chief Technology Officer. From 2003 to 2010, Mr. Brewer served as Executive Chairman of KickStart International, an award-winning nonprofit organization helping poverty- stricken populations in East Africa. He became actively involved with JDRF soon after his son, Sean, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002.
During our interview, Mr. Brewer discussed how his unique background in both the private and nonprofit sectors has prepared him well for his new job. Although he took over for outgoing CEO Alan Lewis only in June, he has wasted no time making big changes at JDRF. He highlighted JDRF's new direction during our discussion, which includes more focus on the treatment side of diabetes, embracing the adult type 1 population, and going beyond academic research as JDRF's sole focus. One of Mr. Brewer's primary motivators is to push for tools that can help make diabetes safer to live with than it is today. He also discussed his pragmatic approach to the cure, his frustration with the FDA, and the current state of the artificial pancreas. As the father of a son with type1 diabetes, Mr. Brewer has a patient-focused outlook, and we expect big changes and exciting developments from JDRF in the coming years as a result of his taking over the leadership of the organization.
JEFFREY BREWER'S BACKGROUND
Kelly: We were really excited when we heard you were being named president of JDRF this past June. I remember very well meeting you in 2002 at the Diabetes Technology Society meeting; your son Sean had just been diagnosed with type 1. How did you find out about that meeting and did you consider that the start of your journey into the field?
Jeffrey: That was about three weeks after my son's diagnosis. I remember vividly being in the hospital and the staff showed us the sliding scale for insulin dosing. It seemed pretty crude to me at the time. I asked about technologies for diabetes and they said, "There are devices called insulin pumps, but you're not ready for that. You need to stay with injections." Of course, this was back in 2002; they didn't think about putting a newly diagnosed child on a pump. Now, we know that that's probably the best thing to do in terms of preserving beta cell function and extending the honeymoon period.
I got online and soon learned about insulin pumps and the early-stage research on continuous glucose monitors. I said to myself, "Why can't we have a computer program that takes what comes out of one and then drives the other and automate this crude and simplistic procedure that I have for administering insulin to my son?" In doing research online, I found the Diabetes Technology Society meeting and then saw that there were going to be some presentations on what was being called an artificial pancreas.
To top things off, I had just moved to New York City with the idea of starting a career in philanthropy. I started a couple of companies that worked out pretty well and provided me with a foundation to focus on philanthropy and on some causes that were interesting to me. And at the very moment that I was launching that phase in my life, this cause picked me rather than me picking it.
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