The line between research and advocacy is a fine one for David Wheadon, M.D. As JDRF’s newly appointed executive vice president for research and advocacy, David oversees all aspects of our efforts to accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of life-changing therapies for type 1 diabetes (T1D). It’s a big role—one filled with extraordinary promise, as well as challenges. And Dr. Wheadon is just the person to tackle it.
David is a graduate of Harvard College and earned his M.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He brings to JDRF 26 years of experience in drug development and translational research, regulatory and medical affairs, and patient advocacy. His broad exposure to industry, government, and influential policy- and decision-makers will be a huge advantage as we work toward our vision of a world without T1D.
The decision to join JDRF crystallized for David when he “realized that [JDRF’s] research and advocacy organization essentially serves as a virtual R&D [research and development] organization,” he says. “While we don’t own assets like medicines, compounds, or that sort of thing, we do influence how the assets that others may have control of progress through the pipeline.”
David says he thinks he can make the most difference at JDRF by being an objective set of eyes and ears. “I’m not a diabetologist or endocrinologist, and in my immediate family I don’t have anyone affected by T1D. However, it is an important autoimmune illness that I am very dedicated to,” he adds. “You have to view opportunities through an objective set of lenses that allow us to prioritize, make some difficult decisions, and place our bets in the most return-intensive way, so we can ultimately show everyone that we are absolutely being diligent to our basic mission.”
Part of that mission, he says, is to use the “virtual R&D model” to take an idea from conception through to execution and ultimately to availability of novel therapies to patients with T1D. “The ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of a job. If I accomplish that, I’ll be very happy,” he says. “The other goal is to take what we have in terms of these great resources and ensure that we have optimized processes and optimized infrastructure support that will allow us to be meticulous, efficient, and thorough in how we progress our portfolio through the pipeline.”
When it comes to advocacy, David will continue to lobby for the Special Diabetes Program, as well as ensure that other key research projects progress. “Advocacy has a role to play in facilitating the regulatory acceptance of things that we are bringing to the table for ultimate approval by the regulatory agencies, or giving us feedback on the sorts of data that would make a difference,” he says. “The good news is that because of the good work our advocates, both staff and volunteers, have done on the Hill and with the FDA, we have very receptive ears at the agencies. We are intent on striking while the iron’s hot.”