Diabetes: Tackling a growing global challenge

Enrique Conterno of Eli Lilly and Company addresses the growing challenge of diabetes and discusses how pooling our resources can help to tackle the problem and manage diabetes in patients.

Diabetes poses one of our biggest global health challenges today. More than 380 million people worldwide are living with the disease, and type 2 diabetes rates are increasing in every country.

According to the latest Diabetes Atlas published in November by the International Diabetes Federation, this number will rise to 592 million by 2035. The impact of the disease is not only growing, but also evolving – leading to 4.8 million early deaths annually and $471 billion in direct costs.

Four out of five people with diabetes now live in low- and middle-income countries, where the disease is affecting people at younger ages and lower body weight levels than typically seen in the U.S. On our present course, diabetes will affect 1 in 10 adults worldwide by 2035. This figure reinforces something we have known for a long time: diabetes is bigger than each of us, and no single entity can mount an effective response to the disease. Tackling it requires a multifaceted approach, drawing upon the resources, creativity and passion of partners in governments, academia, community and faith-based organizations, and the private sector.

“Four out of five people with diabetes now live in low- and middle-income countries…”

Each of these groups has a comparative advantage somewhere along the continuum of diabetes prevention and treatment. Each has a critical role in creating and implementing solutions that work for diverse patients and people at risk. But there is much more to stopping and treating such a complex and increasingly widespread disease. Starting from the time Lilly pioneered the mass-production of insulin in 1923 through more recent actions, including investments in diabetes research and manufacturing in China, our commitment to diabetes has been first and foremost to produce effective treatments for patients.

Take, for example, the issue of diabetes management. Even when health care resources – including medicines – are available, successful management eludes most patients. The American Diabetes Association recently published a study of treatment goals for ABC: hemoglobin A1c, Blood pressure and LDL Cholesterol among 4,900 American adults between 1988 and 2010. It found that nearly half of Americans with diabetes did not meet at least one these ABC goals, and only 1 in 5 achieved all three goals.

“…diabetes will affect 1 in 10 adults worldwide by 2035.”

Working with the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), Lilly took a close look at the diabetes-management needs of Muslims who fast for Ramadan. Fasting during this holy month is an obligation for healthy adult Muslims and often practiced by people with diabetes – yet skipping or reducing meals can result in serious hypoglycemia and / or loss of glucose control for people with the disease.

Lilly and IDF have developed educational materials and translational tools that will go a long way toward helping Muslim communities control their diabetes while fasting. The need for partnerships such as this one will only grow as diabetes touches more – and more diverse – populations.

“Lilly and IDF have developed educational materials and translational tools that will go a long way toward helping Muslim communities control their diabetes while fasting.”

The same goes for R&D that will produce more effective diabetes treatments. Despite its vast global prevalence, diabetes is a very personal disease that requires us to act in the best interest of individual patients. It is important, for example, to ensure that patients participating in our clinical trials are as diverse as the populations affected by the disease in the real world. This will help innovators develop new treatments that can be tailored to patients across the spectrum. An area of particular focus for Lilly is diabetes among the elderly. Here again, we’re working with partners – in this case, the American Diabetes Association and IDF.

Diabetes presents a daunting challenge, but we should not be discouraged. Excellent resources to address this challenge are available, and more are being developed. What’s critical is that we resolve to use these resources effectively and with a sense of urgency. By pooling our capabilities and creativity, we can accelerate progress against diabetes and help more people live healthy lives.

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About the author:

Enrique Conterno was named Senior Vice President and President of Lilly Diabetes, effective November 1, 2009. Prior to this role, Conterno served as president of Lilly USA, the company’s largest affiliate.

Born in Lima, Peru, Conterno earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 1989, and his MBA from Duke University in 1992.

Conterno joined Lilly as a sales representative in 1992. From 1993 to 1995, he held roles as a financial analyst, marketing associate, and business development manager. In 1996, Conterno was named sales and marketing director for Lilly Peru, and in 1998, he became sales and marketing director for the Brazil affiliate. In 2000, Conterno was named executive director of marketing for the intercontinental region and Japan. In 2003, Conterno became president and general manager for Lilly’s operations in Mexico.

In July 2006, Conterno was named vice president of Lilly USA’s neuroscience business unit, and he assumed the role of Lilly USA senior vice president of health care professional markets in 2008. In January 2009, he was named president of Lilly USA.

Conterno is a member of the Board of Visitors for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and serves on the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He’s also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Manufacturers.

Closing thought: How can we tackle the growing problem of diabetes?