Today, the JDRF announced the appointment of Aaron J. Kowalski, Ph.D., as the nonprofit’s President and Chief Executive Officer. A 15-year veteran of JDRF and the first person living with T1D to lead the research organization, Dr. Kowalski has a strong record of spearheading impactful strategic initiatives and forging new partnerships from his previous role as JDRF’s first Chief Mission Officer. He takes the baton from Derek Rapp, who announced his decision to step down in October after serving nearly five years as CEO.
“I know first-hand the impact of type 1 diabetes on individuals and their families because my brother and I have lived with it for decades. I’m humbled to lead JDRF, the organization that has played such a key role in so many of the major T1D advances in recent history,” said Dr. Kowalski, age 47, who was diagnosed at age 13 following a similar diagnosis for his younger brother Stephen at the age of 3.
“I stand on the shoulders of Derek Rapp and those who have come before me, as well as the volunteers, donors, senior leaders and staff who have put in countless hours to bring us closer to potential cures. Together, we will build on our significant progress to drive forward with urgency, new research that presents a line of sight much more promising than ever before to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications,” added Dr. Kowalski.
Both as a scientific leader and as the driving force behind the organization’s mission and outreach efforts, Dr. Kowalski has notably expanded the T1D research and advocacy footprint. He has played a key role in the race towards T1D cures by outlining strategies to define JDRF’s therapy pipeline and accelerate progress in each development stage so that breakthroughs in the lab can be turned into real solutions for people living with the disease. Dr. Kowalski is well known for his global leadership across the T1D community – working closely with senior industry executives and leaders in academia, clinical care, and government.
“Many of us know Aaron as a highly respected leader in the scientific community, a passionate advocate with government officials, and a trusted partner and counselor to leading diabetes organizations around the world,” said Ellen Leake, chair of the JDRF International Board of Directors. “Aaron is uniquely fit to step into the job of CEO with a combination of management, leadership and people skills. He understands like almost no one else the needs and potential of T1D research. On top of that, he connects personally with the entire JDRF community.
Chief Mission Officer
Dr. Kowalski was named Chief Mission Officer in 2014, serving as the organization’s voice for T1D research. He was an early advocate of continuous glucose monitoring and artificial pancreas systems, seeing not just the need, but mapping out the complex roadmap that teams of researchers followed to bring to reality a system that is now changing lives around the world.
“There is no one more qualified than Aaron to lead JDRF’s fight to end this disease,” said Rapp. “He embraces the important role of volunteers and donors on the path toward a cure, living our cause every day and demonstrating there are no limits to what people with the disease can achieve.”
With a doctorate in microbiology and molecular genetics from Rutgers, Dr. Kowalski began his career at JDRF as a scientific program manager in 2004. He became director of strategic research projects and developed a multi-million dollar initiative that transformed diabetes technology to improve blood sugar control, partnering closely with researchers, companies, and regulators to overcome challenges that previously prevented technologies from moving forward. Dr. Kowalski has also published numerous articles in the field, including co-authoring the landmark New England Journal of Medicine study demonstrating the effectiveness of continuous glucose monitors in T1D.
As Chief Mission Officer, he has been responsible for JDRF’s entire research portfolio. This has included supporting 75 human clinical trials this year to move therapies from research labs to the people who need them and advancing key areas like beta cell regeneration and replacement, immunotherapies, and prevention to move closer to a world without T1D. He has also played an integral role in JDRF’s advocacy to fund type 1 diabetes research through the National Institutes of Health’s Special Diabetes Program.
“Aaron’s deep commitment to our shared goal of improving lives for people with and at risk for type 1 diabetes as we search for a cure is evident to all who meet him. We at NIDDK look forward to working with him in his new role as head of JDRF,” said Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health.
Open Protocol Work
More recently, Dr. Kowalski launched JDRF’s work to advocate for open protocols, which enable automated insulin delivery systems to interact with devices made by other manufacturers, providing greater control and choice and improved T1D outcomes.
“Aaron is a change-maker, a talented executive who brings a unique blend of scientific expertise, strategic business focus and the ability to connect across the industry and the diabetes community,” said David Panzirer, trustee of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and a JDRF partner. “His strategic leadership approach has broken down barriers, and improved the lives of people with diabetes today.”
Dr. Kowalski has also served as a policy leader for JDRF, regularly advising Members of Congress and leaders of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure access to T1D therapies and regulatory frameworks that promote innovation.
More than ever, JDRF’s advocacy and policy efforts are critical to ensuring access and affordability of new treatment options and ultimately cures. Dr. Kowalski combines the passion of the T1D community with significant policy experience to ensure availability to research advances and better outcomes for all people with T1D. He is a champion for coverage, affordability, and choice of therapies, advocating for life-saving treatment options and expanded access to help people with T1D stay healthy until we have a cure. Earlier this month, he testified to the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on the critical importance of affordable insulin.
In this new role as JDRF CEO, Dr. Kowalski will join the Board of Directors of the T1D Fund, JDRF’s venture philanthropy fund accelerating life-changing solutions to treat, prevent, and cure type 1 diabetes (T1D) through catalytic commercial investments.
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and—at present—nothing you can do to get rid of it.
JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Our mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested more than $2.2 billion in research funding since our inception. We are an organization built on a grassroots model of people connecting in their local communities, collaborating regionally for efficiency and broader fundraising impact, and uniting on a national stage to pool resources, passion, and energy. We collaborate with academic institutions, policymakers, and corporate and industry partners to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with T1D. Our staff and volunteers throughout the United States and our six international affiliates are dedicated to advocacy, community engagement and our vision of a world without T1D. For more information, please visit jdrf.org.