Dr. Aaron Kowalski named JDRF CEO & President – Scientist extraordinaire and JDRF’s first ever CEO who lives with type 1 diabetes! – April 9, 2019

Executive Highlights

  • After 15 years at JDRF, with the last five spent as Chief Mission Officer, Dr. Aaron Kowalski has been promoted to CEO & President. Dr. Kowalski is the first JDRF CEO to live with diabetes (though his predecessors have certainly had their own close ties to the disease). He takes over for Mr. Derek Rapp, who has deftly led the organization since his appointment in 2014.

  • A force of nature with tremendous depth and breadth of knowledge, unmatched zeal for helping people with diabetes, and an uncanny ability to bring people together, Dr. Kowalski is an outstanding and very natural choice to take up the JDRF CEO mantle. He is incredibly well-known, well-liked, and highly-regarded in the national and international diabetes community for his work that helped to put CGM and automated (closed loop) insulin delivery on the map and for his work in and commitment to progress in basic science that we expect to lead to multiple cures. Further, anyone who knows Dr. Kowalski or has heard him speak, whether on Capitol Hill or at community events, knows him to be incredibly good at raising awareness as well as major funds.

  • We had the opportunity to speak at length with Dr. Kowalski on his expanded role at JDRF and the urgency to drive closer to potential type 1 cures. Our conversation touched on disease-modifying therapies, the JDRF T1D Fund, technology advances, insulin pricing and the importance of choice and access, changing the standards of care for pregnant women with T1D, Dr. Kowalski’s top priorities as CEO, his family, his commitment to all types of diabetes, and more.

In a most deserving appointment, JDRF Chief Mission Officer Dr. Aaron Kowalski has been named the organization’s next President & CEO. Effective immediately, he will take the helm from current longtime CEO Mr. Derek Rapp, who announced in October that he would be stepping down in 2019. Whereas his most recent predecessors – Mr. Rapp and Bigfoot CEO Mr. Jeffrey Brewer – have children with type 1 diabetes, Dr. Kowalski is the first JDRF CEO who lives with type 1 himself (for 34 years), not to mention that his brother has lived with type 1 for over 40 years! Along with his intimate familiarity with diabetes, Dr. Kowalski already boasts a storied 15-year stint with JDRF, where he has helped drive advancements in countless technologies and therapies, advocated for greater access and affordability, raised countless funds for research, collaborated with other nonprofits big and small, and most of all, inspired people with and working in diabetes to reimagine what lies in the realm of possibility. We can’t think of anyone more deserving or well-equipped to lead this impactful organization in what is shaping up to be a very pivotal period in type 1 diabetes research, funding, advocacy, and care delivery. According to quotes in the press release, neither could JDRF International Board Chair Ellen Leake or Helmsley Trustee and fellow type 1 diabetes champion Mr. David Panzirer.

Early on in his JDRF career, Dr. Kowalski provided one of the clearest voices in support of CGM and automated insulin delivery, helping lead the way on the landmark JDRF CGM trial (published in NEJM) and creating widely-cited roadmap to the artificial pancreas. This work was the requisite foundation for the remarkable technology environment today: Two commercially available automated insulin delivery systems (with a busy pipeline), four excellent CGM systems on the market (again, with more on the way), Medicare CGM reimbursement, lower-risk class II pathways for CGMs and pumps (and talk of a similar designation for AID controllers), DIY insulin delivery, and the list goes on and on.

In the past couple of years, Dr. Kowalski has spearheaded JDRF’s relentless push toward an interoperable closed loop ecosystem, informed in no small part by his very positive experience with DIY hybrid closed loop. At ATTD 2018, referring to his DIY Loop therapy, he told a packed audience: “Let me tell you, it’s beautiful … It’s time to move to a new world of diabetes treatment. It works … your patients need this.” In 2017, the Foundation launched the Open Protocol initiative, offering funding to a handful of pump manufacturers to provide seamless, secure, interoperable connectivity with other devices and smartphone apps; and late last year, JDRF/Helmsley granted $6 million in funding to support Tidepool’s road to commercializing Loop (potentially before 2H20). While it goes without saying that this field would look very different without JDRF’s visionary leadership, we highlight today as a new day where partnerships with large and small organizations in the ecosystem will receive a huge boost with Dr. Kowalski’s promotion.  

In this exclusive interview, Dr. Kowalski speaks passionately about his new role, insulin pricing, the T1D Fund (where he will also be assuming a Board seat), his desire to partner and collaborate  across the diabetes community, combination therapy, critical areas of JDRF’s portfolio, and more. We look forward to watching this young leader continue to catalyze pathways to better, healthier, happier, and longer lives for people with diabetes for years to come.

Exclusive Close Concerns Interview with Dr. Kowalski

Reaction to being named CEO and top priorities

Ms. Kelly Close (Close Concerns): Aaron, congratulations from everyone at Close Concerns and The diaTribe Foundation – we are so elated to hear this news! How do you feel?

Dr. Aaron Kowalski: I’m excited. I’m humbled, excited, you know most of all just can’t wait to get at it. I think there’s so much we can do, and we are launching from a very incredibly positive place. So, let’s get at it!

Kelly Close: What did Michele and the rest of your family, especially your amazing mom, say when they found out you were named CEO, and what do you think their priorities are going be for you?

Dr. Kowalski: My family, Michele [Dr. Kowalski’s wife], my kids, were so happy and excited and proud. And my brother, my siblings… My mom, who you know from our time in Vatican City together at the Cura Foundation #UnitetoCure research event, said to me, “I still remember your college essay – you said you were going to cure diabetes, and here you are at JDRF, trying to drive it home.”

Kelly Close: Ahhhh. That’s so great. Tell us more. How else do they feel? They must be so proud.

Dr. Kowalski: Yes. I have proud parents right now, for sure. The other thing that my mom and Michele and my family so appreciate is that until we get to a cure, we need to help people be healthy. So, that balance of seeing tangible improvements and of course traveling around the country and the world, it’s amazing to hear the impact that the work that JDRF and the community together have delivered to people with diabetes. And, then, coming back to this: our goal is a cure.

Kelly Close: We’ve heard JDRF International Board of Directors Chair Ellen Leake emphasize this so many times and so eloquently – thank you all so much for being so directed and focused. 

Mr. Brian Levine (Close Concerns): Aaron, so you are taking up this huge mantle. What’s your first task in office? What are your very top priorities as CEO of JDRF?

Dr. Kowalski: I am excited on a number of fronts. I think Derek [Rapp] has catalyzed incredible momentum here. And, spending so many years in the research group, I have seen an evolution in science where I think we are at a critical moment. You know the treatments are amazing, and we are benefiting. But again, our goal is to cure this disease. And I think, in the cures area – and we use the plural “cures” now, whether it’s beta cell therapies or immunotherapies – we have clinical trials to accelerate. So, one area, of course, is science. We are going to continue to focus on keeping people healthy and devices and drugs that may do that. But I do think we have amazing momentum around cell and immunotherapies.

Engagement is critical in my mind. I was out in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, and I sat with our Young Leadership Council out there. And, Kelly, you are an adult with type 1 who has made a massive difference. And we’d love to see even more adults involved. Not enough adults around the world are involved, honestly. We have so much unchanneled energy, potential, and resources that we need to engage more to help people achieve better outcomes, and then our ultimate mission of having them walk away at some point.

Yesterday I was at Ohio State University and I was talking about how JDRF funds research and what it means to be Chief Mission Officer; it’s ultimately about impact and outcomes. And of course, this past week we had JDRF and other organizations up on the Hill to testify about the impact of high insulin costs; ADA, DPAC; you and diaTribe have had such an impact on accessibility, affordability, regulatory pathways, and our work is not done unless people achieve better outcomes.

The daily life of people with diabetes is more than an A1c, it’s often hidden from the public. But, it’s still a 365, 24/7 disease that is really, really hard. We know that people aren’t achieving these goals. So how do we make sure that the research, and new drugs and devices and therapies are affordable and accessible, that people have choice, and they achieve better outcomes. So, those are the three big buckets for me, and we have so much opportunity on all fronts, because people with diabetes need affordability, choice, and coverage.

Brian Levine: Wait … how many cities have you been in in the last week! Weren’t you just in DC, and before that New York City, and ….

Dr. Kowalski: I’ve been in four states alone in the last few days!

Ms. Maeve Serino (Close Concerns): Looking back, what have your learned from your 15 years at JDRF? What have been your biggest surprises? What experiences will benefit you most in this new position?

Dr. Kowalski: We all play incredibly important roles. One of the things that we realized back in the beginning of my JDRF career is that research is a means, and a very important means, but it’s not an end. What I mean by that is we need to focus on achieving improved outcomes. One of the ways we have been able to do that is with JDRF’s Senior Vice President, Advocacy & Policy Cynthia Rice, who has been an incredible T1D champion, and her outstanding government team in DC. She’s brought a Washington lens, understanding federal funding, regulatory pathways, and policy.

If I were to summarize my most important learning, it’s all about clarity of goals. As a key historical example of this, you remember we published a roadmap on artificial pancreas systems, and I think that clarity around goals was really important there, looking way back. For example, I use the word ‘cures’ now because ‘artificial pancreas’ can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Cures could come in a wide variety. It could be a stem-cell derived encapsulation product, an antigen-specific immunotherapy, or a vaccine for kids who are antibody-positive. We’re really focused on having line of sight to solutions that will have a big impact, then working at JDRF and with partners to fill in the gaps that are holding us back from getting there. We use the term “roadmaps”, and a lot of people have roadmaps, but that specificity is really important.

Where we are today is so much further than where we were when I started in 2004. Being able to play a leadership role, first as a scientist and now for many years in policy and collaborations with other incredibly important organizations like ADA, EASD, ENDO, AACE, and ISPAD – having opportunities to work with leaders across the diabetes ecosystem has positioned me well to understand what JDRF can do well and find where we can partner to drive things faster.

Mr. Martin Kurian (Close Concerns): And we’re all so grateful for that! Can you speak a little about who will be taking over your role as the leading science and mission officer?

Dr. Kowalski: Right now, I do not intend to change the team. You might say, well you’re going to have a broader responsibility. The good news is that, in my role as Chief Mission Officer, I have a team in Washington headed up by Cynthia Rice that is just amazing and moving mountains across each of our priority areas – legislative, grassroots, regulatory, health policy. Likewise, here in New York, Drs. Sanjoy Dutta, Andy Rakeman, Sydney Yovic, have really been running the research department with my input. And, we have Dr. Nicole Johnson and the Mission team, which is a very important part of what we’re doing. I’ll be here in New York and in Washington providing that same direction.

Of course, I’ll have other important responsibilities, and we have such great momentum right now and the team is humming – they’re so smart and so good. So, I don’t intend right now to change our batting order, because they’re hitting home runs. I look forward to providing input like I have been, and I’m confident in the top-notch people and the skillset they each bring that will help us to keep our mission.

On being the first JDRF CEO with T1D

Ms. Ann Carracher (Close Concerns): It’s great to be speaking with you about your strategy across so many different fronts. We have to ask, how does it feel to be the first JDRF CEO living with type 1 diabetes? We’d love to hear more about how this will impact your decision-making.

Dr. Kowalski: It’s humbling, and it feels really good because I’ve been doing this a long time. The impact of diabetes on a family’s life evolves over time. Someone recently asked me, ‘What’s the hardest part of your job?’ I think one of the hardest parts at JDRF is that people who live with diabetes, depending where you are in your life, have different priorities. I was a sibling to someone who struggled greatly with hypoglycemia unawareness. I went through college with diabetes and understand those challenges. Now, as a parent, I worry about the risk for my kids and my siblings’ kids. I think having that perspective brings a lot. JDRF was started by parents, and parents bring immense passion. I’m incredibly grateful for my own. Right now, I’m looking at a picture of my parents, me, my wife, and my sister crossing the finish line at the New York City Marathon a few years back (we walked it together!) and thinking about how much my parents did for us. Ultimately, it’s about all of us pushing together and bringing those voices and channeling that energy.

What I bring to the table is that I get it. I understand what will be most impactful. For example, one of the areas that I’m proud of right now is our work in psychosocial aspects of diabetes. Until there’s a cure, we need to help people live with this disease. I’m one voice, but I certainly hope to provide context for the seriousness of this problem and enable JDRF to deliver solutions that are truly impactful.

On diabetes technology and optimism for disease-modifying therapies

Brian Levine: When you were first named Chief Mission Officer, we asked about your vision of type 1 diabetes in 2020. Are we where you thought we’d be when it comes to technology and the regulatory landscape? What would you like to see accomplished by 2021, the 100-year anniversary of insulin?

Dr. Kowalski: I would say: Mostly. I am so excited today to be wearing a hybrid closed loop and seeing how that positively impacts my wife and my kids. I was at a summit yesterday and heard many people come up and say how their lives have become better with hybrid closed loop. What could be better than that in terms of impact? That said, we also had a session on advocacy yesterday, and we aren’t all the way there, particularly when it comes to accessibility. Medicare coverage for CGM was a great victory, but we don’t yet have access to the Medicare population for artificial pancreas systems, for example.

Altogether, we are a lot of the way to where I hoped to be in 2020 which is encouraging. When I think about what’s coming down the pipeline, I’m very optimistic about the many exciting disease-modifying therapies moving into clinical trials. I don’t think it can be understated how important that is. Of course, these devices are huge, but they’re band-aids. They’re not solutions.

We haven’t yet changed the course of type 1 diabetes in the real world. The fact that we have ViaCyte in human trials, the fact that we have big companies like Lilly and Novo Nordisk working on stem cells for encapsulation products or gene-edited products, the fact that we have a T1D Fund now at JDRF that’s accelerating catalytic commercial investments in the field means that we have line of sight to disease-modifying therapies. That’s going to be a big theme for me. Keeping people healthy? Critical. But we’ve got to change the course of type 1 diabetes. That is mission critical.

Mr. Peter Rentzepis (Close Concerns): All of that is so great to hear. And, we have a different question. What areas of JDRF research do not get enough attention?

Dr. Kowalski: That’s a great question. One thing I’m really proud of is the work we have done in pregnancy. Our CONCEPTT trial, it was really, really hard work, but it’s changing the standard of care for pregnant women across the world. I saw Dr. Helen Murphy at a recent meeting, at ATTD in Berlin at our Time in Range meeting there. She said that England has literally changed its access to devices because of this trial and the work we did. That is the JDRF impact that is incredible and so heartwarming to me. I think that the increase in psychosocial focus is also great. We are funding fellowships to train psychologists in the psychology of diabetes. Again, it’s fresh in my mind, but coming back to Ohio State – they are working on a transition clinic there. They have a population of kids there – 18- and 19-year-olds – where the average A1c is 12%. Not good! We know that it’s not the tools, it’s that these young people are struggling with depression and mental health. We are doing more with this, and its high impact and I hope we continue to do more.

And, coming back to the 15-year evolution of my time at JDRF that Maeve asked about, the thing that I think today that makes me so optimistic and gives me a good feeling is that the work that we’ve done on treatments as we drive for a cure has had a tangible positive impact on people. It always comes back to that for me: Less hypoglycemia, better Time in Range, better A1c, better quality of life, less depression and anxiety, better pregnancy. A1c is one thing, but all the other ancillary benefits in the work that we do, those little things add up to better results and I’m glad that we have played a part in that.

Martin Kurian: That’s Beyond A1c! Aaron, we recently heard at ENDO 2019 that JDRF is funding a triple therapy study of insulin, semaglutide and dapagliflozin in type 1 diabetes. Could you speak more on this trial and more generally what you’re excited about with adjunct therapies?

Dr. Kowalski: I’m not going to speak to the specific trial because it’s  ongoing but I will speak philosophically on what this trial highlights. We’re dealing with a multifaceted disease and for people with type 1 diabetes, stage three type 1 diabetes as we describe it now, we have two big buckets of problems: one is that we’ve lost the bulk of our beta cell function, almost all of it for most people, yet we also have this chronic autoimmunity. We’ve certainly made great strides in developing some novel therapies that can potentially slow down autoimmunity. And we also see beta cell drugs – like the verapamil trial that we funded, which showed that a beta cell stress-removing drug can forestall diabetes, meaning that the beta cell is also playing an important role here – and the idea of combination therapy is something that’s going to be core to ultimately getting to cures for type 1. This is a trial that is something you’ll see more of, and something our regulatory team is focused a lot on.

You hear Dr. Jay Skyler talk about this a lot and many of the leading autoimmunity investigators as well as beta cell investigators say that solving this disease will likely take more than a silver bullet and will probably take combination therapies. Creating pathways that FDA understands and that the industry understands is going to take hard work and we are committed to doing that. We play a pretty unique role in the ability to work with academia and industry to take some risks in terms of innovative new trial designs, etc. That will certainly be a theme. We’ve got to fix autoimmunity, we’ve got to fix beta cell dysfunction and lack of insulin production and this trial with Dr. Dandona is emblematic of a future where I think it’s going to be combination therapies.

On the JDRF T1D Fund

Kelly Close: Aaron, we’d love to hear more about the T1D fund and your current thoughts on this. We’ve been blown away by how fast that’s grown and what such an incredibly talented but still very small team has been able to do.

Dr. Kowalski: Building a type 1 focused fund is something that folks had always thrown around. How can we catalyze more investment in type 1 diabetes? I’m always really proud of the pipeline approach that JDRF has taken, looking at gaps in the pipeline, discovery and research, translational development, regulatory, health insurance, and clinical adoption. But certainly one of the very biggest gaps was the lack or under-investment in type 1 diabetes companies. Initially, John Brady, and over the past few years, Sean Doherty have been leaders driving incredible progress here. As you know, Sean – now the Executive Chair of the Board – is a force of nature and one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. And through investment with JDRF and incredibly generous supporters, we have a portfolio of investments now driving significant, leveraged investment in companies focused on T1D, which was a big gap for us. And it’s really across each of our priority areas, whether that’s treatment, prevention, or cures for type 1 diabetes. Initially we wondered whether it would be all three, and you see they have a diversified portfolio. They have two super smart Managing Directors – Dr. Jonathan Behr and Katie Elias are awesome. You always hear as a manager you should hire people smarter than you, and these guys are super smart. I was just up in Boston with both of them talking about immunotherapies and, gosh, they add so much. We’re always thinking about the gaps holding us back from driving solutions into the hands of people, and one was certainly investment in commercial T1D solutions. I will be taking a Board seat, and I can’t wait to jump in. Of course, I’ve been collaborating with the group as head of research from the get-go and I’m very excited to spend even more time with them.

Brian Levine: The T1D Fund has made 13-14 investments at this point; are there any gaps in the investments that you see and will be pushing to fill when you take on a Board seat?

Dr. Kowalski: The portfolio is very diversified across our priority areas. One of the things we’re gearing up for right now is our yearly portfolio review, so we’re always evaluating, “What are the gaps that we can fund against that will drive solutions faster?” And the Fund and JDRF research team have been working hand-in-hand and really, akin to what we did with the artificial pancreas, thinking about roadmaps across each of our priority research areas, whether it’s preventative therapies or cell based or immunotherapies. I mentioned being up in Boston – we had leaders in industry and academia talking about pathways through FDA for diabetes-specific immunotherapies. Cell therapies and immunotherapies are on the cusp of major breakthroughs for us. We are looking at every gap and how we can incentivize commercialization of materials or platforms that help us understand the disease better – you name it. I think the Fund will be pushing on each of those areas as hard as humanly possible.

Peter Rentzepis: It’s amazing to see how much companies are benefiting not just from financial investment but also all that JDRF has to offer – brainpower, experience, judgment. Another question on the T1D Fund - if JDRF could magically quadruple its fundraising tomorrow, what areas would you be most excited to invest in?

Dr. Kowalski: It’s a really important question for us. I remember when the Powerball was a billion dollars, a volunteer was certain she was going to win it and we were going to blow the budget out of the water. I think the impact of additional funding is acceleration. Of course, there are opportunities to accelerate hybrid closed loop and more automated systems, but really accelerating the beta cell therapies and immunotherapies is exciting.

If our budget were bigger, we would move faster. That’s something I think about towards increasing impact: the more JDRF can push, the more collaborations and leverage we have across the community with organizations like diaTribe, Close Concerns, ADA, Helmsley, all the professional and patient organizations, and work across the globe. I hope that we see significant increases in our ability to fund more research, and that’s going to be one of my top priorities because we need to keep pushing faster and harder. Specifically, we’re going to make a big push on beta cell therapies and immunotherapies while ensuring that people are healthy until we get there.

On alleviating HCP burden

Ann Carracher: Thank you so much for all your work for patients. If you could say anything to healthcare providers who are working with people with type 1 diabetes and who don’t have the capacity to do everything they’d like to do, is there any advice you’d have for them or anything you’d like to say on their roles?

Dr. Kowalski: This is a passion of mine. There are a number of different areas where we’re working to try to lessen the administrative burden for clinicians to increase the opportunities for cutting edge education so that people understand the new advances that are helping on the front line. Ultimately, I would love to see my doctor and every doctor who is practicing diabetes medicine understand the best opportunities to help their patients and have as much time as possible with those people with diabetes and their families and loved ones to deliver the best outcomes. Whether that’s CME, whether that’s policy, whether that’s reimbursement, etc., this is a really, really important part of what we call the pipeline. Everything can be in order – make a discovery, get it commercialized, have it approved, even have it reimbursed – and if it’s too hard for the clinic to adopt and prescribe, or they don’t hear about it, people with diabetes don’t achieve better outcomes. So, we have made a conscious decision to also invest here – and again it will primarily be focused on policies that lessen the administrative burden for clinicians, as well as CME and different education opportunities that allow more at-your-fingertips information on the cutting edge.

The last thing would be the data, the decision support tools and the ability to interpret the complex information of diabetes. We have all the glucose information today, tomorrow we’ll have genetics, and we’ll have a variety of other metrics I firmly believe, and we need to distill that into tangible, actionable info for clinicians so they can get their job done efficiently and help their patients efficiently.

Ann Carracher: Aaron, what incredible news this morning that you are taking on this role. You’re going to be in a very small group of CEOs today that are fighting for change and are extraordinarily impactful. Thank you incredibly much for taking this on and for fighting for people with type 1 diabetes everywhere!

Dr. Kowalski: Thank you so much to all of you for all your work with your teams – I look so forward to further work together!

Kelly Close: Congratulations once again from us all, especially Adam Brown, who is out this week but gave us lots of ideas for our questions, to your board, your teams, the broader JDRF, all the regional leaders, all the far-flung teams, all the supporters – wow! And, thank you so much to Jeffrey Brewer, who introduced us back in 2004 and told me that you’d be CEO one day. Our teams have been saying that ever since we were able to start to work together so many years ago! You and he made a massive commitment together on the closed loop, and on science more broadly – thank you for all you’ve done and all the JDRF funders and team players with you. Look for this interview in Close Concerns’ Closer Look and, translated into something even more patient-friendly at! (Spontaneous, enthusiastic, repeated applause from the team.)

Perspectives on Dr. Kowalski's New Role

  • "I can't think of a better champion of T1D than Aaron. For a newly diagnosed 10-year old with T1D, who would be the best person on the planet for this youngster to speak to? Aaron. Who would be best for his parents to talk to? Aaron. What about his doctor, to better understand today's treatments and the future? Aaron. Who would best represent T1D to a Department of Medicine Grand Rounds? Aaron. If I could pick anyone to go to Congress to fight for affordable insulin, who would I pick? Aaron (he was awesome!). Who do I want to speak to young basic scientists to get them excited about T1D? Aaron. Aaron's secret is that he is a scientist who brings his own personal experience in each interaction, so if you are a 10 year-old or a basic scientist, he can relate to you. I've never met his brother but I feel like I know him, living through all of the hypoglycemia. JDRF could not have made a better decision naming Aaron as their new CEO." - Dr. Irl Hirsch (University of Washington)

  • "I am elated to see Dr. Kowalski appointed as CEO of JDRF.  Dr. Kowalski has distinguished himself as a tireless advocate, whose scientific background and ease of translating these efforts so all can understand make him the perfect choice for this role.  Furthermore, while many former CEO’s have had personal connections with type 1 diabetes, to see Dr. Kowalski ascend to this role living with the condition will be a wonderful way to tell my patients that they can achieve whatever they set out to do—diabetes can’t stop them.  With Dr. Kowalski at the helm of JDRF, I have no doubt that any roadmap created will be easily traversed.  In other words, I am extremely hopeful for what the future holds for JDRF, and for those living with T1D." - Dr. Jennifer Sherr (Yale School of Medicine)

  • "Aaron is a masterful choice to lead the JDRF. He is easy to get along with and understands the importance of strong relationships at all levels. He truly understands and has prioritized the need to improve the lives NOW for patients with type 1. As Chief Mission Officer, he has been at the forefront of technology and big data assimilation leading to the development of a hopefully soon artificial pancreas. Recognizing the need, he has at the same time promoted behavioral programs aimed at making day-to-day living a little easier. Aaron understands that insulin, however, is not a cure. He has fully supported efforts aimed at finding a biological cure through programs aimed at understanding the causes and mechanisms leading to the disease, as well as prevention and intervention efforts." - Dr. Desmond Schatz (University of Florida)

  • "I was absolutely thrilled to hear that Dr. Aaron Kowalski was named JDRF CEO and President. Dr. Kowalski has tremendous vision, knowledge, passion and tenacity for advancing diabetes research to impact the lives of people with T1D. Perhaps as much as anyone on the planet, Dr. Kowalski has been responsible for the tremendous advances in diabetes technology and therapies over the last decade. With his new platform as JDRF CEO and President, I’m confident that disruptive solutions for diabetes are around the corner.

    On a personal level, I first met Aaron about 10 years ago when I was in pediatric residency and doing a summer internship with JDRF. He provided invaluable mentorship, career advice, and introduced me to Dr. Bruce Buckingham who would become my research mentor during my postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford. Aaron continues to be a great source of encouragement to this very day. As a pediatric endocrinologist, and a person with T1D myself, I’m grateful for Dr. Kowalski’s example of thriving with diabetes and living a life of service – now as JDRF’s first ever CEO who lives with T1D!" - Dr. Daniel DeSalvo (Baylor College of Medicine)

  • "It's hard to think of anyone who has a clearer vision than Aaron on what is important for those of us with T1D. His vision will drive JDRF strategy so that the organization focuses on and delivers wins that matter to people with T1D – and that is what JDRF should be all about. All of us who care about T1D should be grateful to Aaron that he has agreed to step up and take on this challenging role." - Larry Soler (Partner, Convergency)

  • "Over the past fifteen years, I have had the pleasure of watching Aaron Kowalski metamorphosize into a veritable force of nature in the world of innovations in treatment and technologies for people living with type 1 diabetes, their loved ones and the clinicians that care for them. He has catapulted the development, refinement and adoption of many of the tools I cherish in my practice that have been life-changing for my patients. Continuous glucose monitoring and automated insulin delivery systems are smaller, smarter and more intuitive to operate thanks to his hard work. As an associate editor of ADA's Diabetes Spectrum, I invited Dr. Kowalski to serve as guest editor of a soon to be released technology focused issue. Many of the authors that contributed to the issue have been developing cutting edge technologies that will improve the lives of people living with diabetes thanks to the support and insight of Dr. Kowalski. We can only expect great things to come with Aaron Kowalski at the helm of JDRF." - Dr. Jane Seley (New York-Presbyterian Hospital)

  • "I can think of no finer person to represent and lead JDRF as CEO & President than Aaron! He is a tireless advocate for people with type 1 diabetes around the world and has made a tremendous difference in his previous roles at JDRF. His leadership on CGM and automated insulin delivery (among others) has resulted in these systems being commercially available. Their use is at an inflection point making glucose control and decreased burden of diabetes a reality. Aaron brings both a strong scientific background and personal experience to this role. Moreover, he is incredibly supportive to researchers, clinicians, and people with type 1 diabetes and their families. I know that improved care and a cure will be priorities and that Aaron and JDRF will lead the charge on this.  I look forward to Aaron’s leadership of JDRF and the opportunity to continue to work with him." - Dr. David Maahs (Stanford University)

  • "Aaron is not only one of the most dedicated individuals that I have ever met working in the field of diabetes, but he is also such a smart and genuinely sincere and nice person. JDRF is so fortunate to have Aaron run the organization. I am fortunate to have Aaron as a close friend.” - Dr. Steve Edelman (UCSD)

  • "I could not be more excited for Aaron, and proud for the major steps JDRF has taken by naming Aaron as their premier type 1 CEO. First, and foremost one must give great credit to Derek Rapp for his leadership. Not only did he do an amazing job while at the helm of JDRF, but he spent 5 years cultivating Aaron for the role of CEO. To promote from within is a major achievement, and to do it with a super star like Aaron is incredible step for JDRF, and for all of us with type 1.

    Further, I feel it is great for the diabetes community to have a brother with type 1 at the helm of the world's largest research organization, and a dream come true for many of us in the field. We know Aaron has passion. We know Aaron knows what needs to be done. And we know he has both the grit and determination to make decisions with his head, his heart, and his gut. Personally to see a fellow athlete with type 1 in this leadership position is just awesome. We have been friends for many years, and I know there is not a person in the field who is not excited for Aaron's nomination. We will all be there for you my friend, and we are all more excited than ever for the future of diabetes. Big thanks to Derek Rapp, and big congrats to Aaron. Together we are stronger, and now it is time to up the pace even more, for a better for future for all of us touched by this disease!" - Mr. Phil Southerland (CEO, Team Novo Nordisk)

  • "I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Aaron Kowalski for many years and am thrilled to learn that he is JDRF’s new President and CEO. I know of no one who has worked harder to make a difference in the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes than Aaron. We in the type 1 community look forward to even more success from JDRF with Aaron in the lead." - Mr. Jeff Hitchcock (President, Children with Diabetes)

  • “Aaron was selected after a highly competitive search that included interviewing numerous exceptionally qualified leaders in the non-profit, corporate and scientific communities. But at the end of the day, the Search Committee and the JDRF Board recognized that there is no one who can more effectively drive our research toward cures and more passionately represent the T1D Community than Aaron.” - Ms. Ellen Leake (Chair of the International Board of Directors, JDRF)

  • “Individuals with type 1 diabetes and their families were very lucky that Aaron Kowalski was named JDRF CEO. I am convinced he will work tirelessly to ensure JDRF provides real hope of lifting the burden and fear of living with diabetes.” - Dr. Rich Bergenstal (International Diabetes Center)

What Should Dr. Kowalski's Top Priorities Be as CEO?

  • "If I were CEO of JDRF I would focus on impact and where I could have the greatest impact on the most amount of people. The two areas that come to mind are: (i) Access to insulin, not just in the US, but globally.  It is unacceptable that people die because they don’t have access to insulin; and (ii) CGM adoption – CGMs should be on every single person who uses insulin – period! Technology is ready and it is the best way to educate and impact all people with diabetes in a positive way." - Mr. Panzirer (Trustee, Helmsley Charitable Trust)

  • "Under his leadership, the efforts of JDRF in [the arena of biological cures and prevention] need to further intensify. The JDRF is a critical source of support to academic centers and young investigators. Our type 1 field is facing a critical shortage of young physician scientists. Aaron and JDRF should further make the training of the next generation a priority." - Dr. Schatz

  • "I think Aaron has to: (i) make all these cutting edge treatments and technologies MORE AFFORDABLE to all people living with T1DM; and (ii) continue to forge ahead with artificial pancreas whether it be single or dual hormone so people don't have to 'think like a pancreas,' a device will do it for them..." - Dr. Seley

  • "I vote for a divide and conquer strategy. Charge NIH with solving the immunology and prevention aspects of T1D. JDRF must help make insulin affordable for every individual with T1D --- NOW --- before it is too late for them to take advantage of coming innovations. Next,  step 1: JDRF must ensure that automated insulin delivery (AID) is simple, effective, desirable and affordable. Step 2: JDRF must help build a whole new model of how medical teams enthusiastically engage with and support those using AID – we don’t have it right yet and there are only a few organizations like JDRF that could facilitate an innovative solution." - Dr. Bergenstal

  • "In addition to advancing basic and clinical research in type 1 diabetes, that he has been intimately involved with for years, I would love JDRF to focus more of their attention to the majority of type 1s who do not use or have access to CGM. In addition, to create a new clinical culture and standard of care that all newly diagnosed type 1s have access to CGM within the first few days and weeks." - Dr. Edelman

  • “We are embarking on what I firmly believe is going to be a transformational period for JDRF, but more importantly, for our T1D Community. This is the right time for Aaron to lead the organization - to further accelerate our pace to cures while also helping those with T1D live healthier lives today. Who better than Aaron, as one who lives with the disease, to lead JDRF as we do our utmost to deliver on our mission, to work as hard, as fast, and as efficiently as possible. Every day is a day without a cure.” - Ms. Leake

JDRF CEOs Since 2000




Dr. Aaron Kowalski

April 9, 2019 - Current

JDRF Scientific program manager beginning in 2004, Chief Mission Officer since 2014; Lives with type 1; PhD in microbiology and molecular genetics

Derek Rapp

July 20, 2014 – April 8, 2019

JDRF International Board of Directors Vice Chair; son with type 1; See our interview with him from 2015

Jeffrey Brewer


Bigfoot Biomedical CEO; Former JDRF International Board of Directors; son with type 1, highly successful tech entrepreneur (Web 1.0)

Dr. Alan Lewis


Former Novocell CEO, multiple years of experience in biomedical research

Arnold Donald


CEO of Carnival Corporation (cruise line); 20 years at Monsanto

Peter van Etten


Former CEO of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Stanford Health Care

Notable JDRF Events and Announcements Featuring Dr. Kowalski

JDRF Mission Summit 2019 – January 28, 2019

Tidepool receives $6 million from Helmsley Charitable Trust and JDRF to support Loop AID app development; big vote of confidence – December 12, 2018

JDRF Psychosocial KOL Roundtable – November 9, 2018

JDRF/Helmsley Big Data in T1D Workshop – August 15-16, 2018

JDRF/NIH/Helmsley Closed-Loop Research Meeting at ADA 2018 – June 22-26, 2018

Enabling Automated Insulin Delivery Systems Compatibility and Interoperability (Sponsored by Helmsley Charitable Trust and JDRF) – April 23, 2018

JDRF Mission Summit 2018 ­– January 18, 2018

JDRF initiative to accelerate “open protocol” automated insulin delivery; major win for DIY movement; encourages manufacturers to update devices for seamless connectivity – October 18, 2017

JDRF 2017 Children’s Congress – July 24-26, 2017

JDRF Announces New T1D Venture Philanthropy Fund to Drive Commercialization; Bigfoot Biomedical is the First Investment - January 26, 2017

JDRF Town Hall highlights MiniMed 670G FDA approval, shares tremendous patient enthusiasm and FDA commitment – October 3, 2016

JDRF/NIH Closed-Loop Research Meeting at ADA 2016 – June 10-14, 2016

JDRF/NIH Closed-Loop Consortium Meeting: “The Last 100 Yards” at ADA 2015 – June 5-9, 2015

FDA/JDRF/NIH Workshop on Innovation Towards an Artificial Pancreas – April 9-10, 2013

JDRF holds special artificial pancreas webcast in honor of World Diabetes Day – November 14, 2011


-- by Brian Levine, Ann Carracher, Maeve Serino, Martin Kurian, Peter Rentzepis, and Kelly Close