Leonard Thompson Day 2023 – the next 100 years of diabetes are now

23 January 2023

On January 23 1922, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy living with diabetes, became the first person to receive a successful insulin injection. Since that day, the pancreatic extract discovered by Frederick G. Banting and Charles H. Best has saved millions of lives and led to a century of research and innovation that improved the lives of those with diabetes. (To learn more about the history of diabetes and the discovery of insulin, visit our virtual exhibition here).

Innovation: shaping the future of diabetes

Innovation is a constant journey. The process leading to the discovery of insulin lasted centuries and it did not stop there. The many innovations that followed resulted from ongoing research and improvements on past discoveries as well as new breakthroughs including new medicines, devices, technologies and digital solutions that have drastically improved the treatment and management of diabetes. To highlight these and many more advances in diabetes care, treatment and management over the past year, in 2023 we will release two publications, one focusing on innovation in medicines and one on innovation in medical devices and technologies. Our review of innovation in diabetes care delivery was published last year.

Today, the process of innovation continues to evolve. A ground-breaking change is the increasingly greater involvement of PwD in the design of new medicines and solutions for improved diabetes management, as well as options to prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes.
Nevertheless, the many innovations that have come out over the past 100 years have not improved health outcomes and quality of life for all. In part, PwD still need better performing medicines and technologies. In part, the lack of improvement stems from limited access to insulin, other diabetes medicines, supplies and technologies, care and education and/or inadequate implementation of the recommended standards of care. Great inequalities persist, between and within countries. In Europe, for example, up to half PwD do not achieve optimal blood glucose targets. The burden of diabetes-related complications weighs heavily on PwD and their families/carers, with, for example, one third developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), as well as on health systems, with three quarters of total diabetes costs resulting from diabetes-related complications.

Future innovations will be crucial to tackle these challenges with new treatment models and better performing and more personalised approaches. Without adequate access, their impact will remain limited though.

In this context, the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation represents a key opportunity to ensure that citizens’ unmet medical needs are addressed, to reduce inequalities in access to affordable medicines, and to enable new innovations that are based on citizen’s meaningful engagement in the identification of research priorities that can address the health outcomes that matter most to them. This is one of IDF Europe’s priorities for this new year.

IDF Europe Centenary of Insulin campaign

101 years after the first successful insulin injection, as we enter the last year of our Centenary of Insulin Campaign, we continue to celebrate this incredible breakthrough and we wish to raise awareness of the need for further improvements to address the challenges that people living with diabetes (PwD) continue to face to achieve the best possible health outcomes and quality of life.

IDF Europe Centenary of Insulin Campaign was officially launched on Leonard Thompson Day in 2021 with three key objectives:

  • Raising awareness of diabetes and making the Blue Circle a “household name”
  • Celebrating the milestones achieved and looking to the future of diabetes treatment and promising new developments
  • Calling for action on ensuring affordable access to all required diabetes medicines, supplies and technologies as well as diabetes care and education for all PwD in Europe

In 2023, we will strive to further deliver on these objectives by conducting a range of initiatives and events and building on the achievements of the last two years. An essential element of the campaign will remain the strong engagement from PwD in all our activities.

In particular, we will seek to ensure that the new Diabetes Resolution adopted by the European Parliament in November 2022 translates into concrete action by the European Commission and Member States, by raising awareness of its key asks, notably around improved diabetes prevention, management and access to diabetes care. To do this, we will continue to collaborate with the MEP Interest Group on Diabetes – MEPs Mobilising for Diabetes (MMD) and work closely with our partners and member associations in and outside of the EU. We will also convene a High-Level Summit later in the year, which will bring together EU, pan-European and national stakeholders and policy-makers to develop a new roadmap for diabetes prevention and care in the Europe region.

Our advocacy efforts will ultimately seek to hold governing bodies to account on meeting targets 3.4 (reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being ) and 3.8 (achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all) of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As we have learned with the discovery of insulin and many other breakthroughs, the process of innovating and improving diabetes care and treatment has been evolving progressively throughout the years. This is why we will continue advocating for even more ambitious targets beyond the 2030 Agenda to ensure a sustainable way forward for all PwD to be guaranteed access not just to existing medicines, technologies and care but also to new approaches, medicines tools, and technologies, as they become available.

Summing up IDF Europe’s ambitions for today and the years ahead, Elisabeth Dupont, IDF Europe Regional Manager, said: “On Leonard Thompson day, we want to celebrate researchers for pushing back scientific boundaries, healthcare professionals for continuously improving care models and people living with diabetes for pioneering new engagement paradigms. In the next 100 years, we will actively work with the diabetes community to drive transformation to improve the quality of life of all people with diabetes”.

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