What does the future of diabetes care look like? Gary Meininger believes the future is as bright as it’s ever been.
Sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Gary Meininger, Senior Vice President of Global Medicines Development and Medical Affairs and Head of Clinical Development for Vertex Cell & Genetic Therapies (VCGT). Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Vertex strives to “create transformative medicines” that “strike at the core of serious diseases.” Among their focus areas: type 1 diabetes.
Asked what his favorite part of working at Vertex is, Meininger smiled and hesitated a moment: “I don’t think I can answer [with just] one.” The boldness of Vertex’s mission–a quality that sets them apart within Boston’s highly competitive biotech hub–shone through as Meininger replied. “The scientific innovation that goes on at Vertex is unlike any place I’ve ever been,” he explained. “But scientific innovation can’t happen without people who are willing to think innovatively and collaborate together. So, it’s the science and the people…and you can’t have one without the other.”
Meininger’s impassioned demeanor comes not only from his pride in working at Vertex, but also his own journey with type 1 diabetes. “I was early in my junior year of college, already studying biology and committed to the pre-med pathway. Of course, the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes caught me by surprise.” Initially, Meininger doubted whether he could pursue a career in medicine due to the burden of managing diabetes with the limited technology available at the time. “It was very daunting…a new calculus on top of everything I was already doing in college.”
Upon accepting his diagnosis and getting the hang of diabetes management, Meininger entered medical school, unsure what he wanted to do afterward. Being the only member of his family with type 1 diabetes at that time, Meininger and his identical twin brother enrolled in several clinical studies, one of which was at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. One of the lead scientists involved in that study, the late Dr. Fredda Ginsberg, gave Meininger advice that changed his life: “Don’t let your diabetes limit what you do in life, but don’t forget that you have diabetes.” After completing medical school and residency, Meininger’s calling was clear: to be an endocrinologist.
Meininger spent 17 years directly caring for people with diabetes as an endocrinologist, alongside 20-plus years working in drug development. In addition to his current role at Vertex, Meininger serves as a non-voting Industry Representative to the FDA Advisory Committee for the Endocrine and Metabolic Division, providing scientific advice on emerging products that address diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes is a significant part of Meininger’s family life, too. His twin brother was diagnosed years after him, and his daughter was diagnosed just before her fifth birthday. Knowing the importance of ideal diabetes management at home, Meininger appreciates the progress achieved in the diabetes field since his diagnosis over 30 years ago. Having started his journey with diabetes using fingerstick glucose monitoring and multiple daily injections of insulin, Meininger is grateful for continuous glucose monitoring systems and hybrid closed-loop systems that reduce the guesswork. “It baffles me that there used to be a time when I would know my blood sugar between four and eight times a day,” Meininger explained. “Now I know it from minute to minute! And with hybrid closed-loop systems, [in addition to] the machine being able to interpret my glucose and make adjustments to my insulin…I no longer have to worry about my blood sugars at night and in the morning.” Meininger commends the “remarkable” changes in standards of diabetes care, but acknowledges that management still isn’t easy–which is where Vertex enters the discussion.
Meininger’s Hopes for the Future of Diabetes Care
When asked what his hopes are for the future of diabetes care, Meininger expressed a desire that “the broader scientific community, and we at Vertex are able to provide a transformative therapy for persons with type 1 diabetes, where when a child is diagnosed, they are given this treatment and where a reinforcement of the treatment might not be needed for many years.”
Meininger believes that the next generation of innovators is more than capable of making a more aspirational aim to cure type 1 diabetes. “We at Vertex are fortunate to have very bright, motivated, and dedicated individuals in the type 1 diabetes space and beyond, but we don’t have the answers alone. We need individuals who are working to advance the field, to understand the immunologic components, and it is terrific to see those people emerging.”
Meininger also hopes that companies like Vertex will continue to advocate for people with diabetes and raise awareness of their cutting-edge work among patients and physicians alike. This strategy, Meininger believes, will perpetuate the need for better quality of life among people with diabetes, and create momentum towards a cure.
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