Beating Diabetes

Diabetes is a tough disease to live with – I know this first hand. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) the summer I was turning 17, and it changed my life. At the time I was a competitive athlete, playing tennis on the Swedish National Team, and an excellent student. Nothing had prepared me for this diagnosis. We did not have diabetes in our family, and I had no friends with the disease. I saw it as a defect and a failure. It became something I would hide from everyone for many years.

Almost twenty years later, I received MD and PhD degrees from the Karolinska Institute, a post doc at Harvard, and worked on Wall street. I had taken a company public on NASDAQ and become a partner at a Venture Capital Fund, but I was really not feeling well. The spring of 2007, 18 years after my diagnosis, my kidneys and eyes were failing, my blood pressure was uncontrollably high and my hemoglobin was so low that I required blood transfusions. What happened? Well, diabetes had slowly but surely destroyed my system, and was on its way to take my life.

This was when I realized that I cannot hide my condition, and that the treatments on the market are not good enough – there must be a better way.

Fast forward 10 years, I had now been the head of Metabolic Strategy at JNJ, had a senior role in the world’s largest diabetes foundation, JDRF, and had run clinical trials in diabetes for a biotech company that I had helped take public. Most importantly, I had gone through two transplants and received a pacemaker. The pacemaker was placed due to repeated fainting episodes that would happen inconveniently, and often risked major injury and even death. Before the pacemaker, my heart would just stop because of diabetes nerve damage and complete body fatigue from all the injuries I had endured. I was also given a kidney from my father that saved my life, and a pancreas transplant from a deceased donor. I finally had a new chance to make life worth living again.

It is 2017. I am a strong, happy and very determined woman; but I am far from done. My company, Lyfebulb, is here to make a difference and I will not give up until we have accomplished our goals.

Diabetes is not a lifestyle disease.

It is a disease that slowly but surely kills, cripples and debilitates. I wish it were cured and abolished from our planet but in the meantime we need to address it much more aggressively.

Our current landscape of companies is driven by a few very large ones that have provided patients with the life-saving drug, insulin, since its discovery in 1921. These companies, namely US-based Eli Lilly, Danish Novo Nordisk and French/German Sanofi, are enormously dedicated to diabetes, patients and to research. The developments over the years included using insulin used derived from pigs and cows that was modified by the addition of zinc in the 60s to influence the absorption of insulin. Then, in 1977 Herbert Boyer of Genentech developed the first engineered insulin, so-called “human insulin”, and in 1982, Eli Lilly did a deal with Genentech and started selling Humulin. Insulin analogs were introduced in 1996 and 2001, which triggered higher pricing for the products, although marginal improvements in diabetes measurements such as long-term glucose control (HbA1c) were achieved. The price of insulin rose by a multiple of 25 from the 70’s to 1996, and in 2001 the price increase had risen to 35 times that of bovine insulin. At this point, Lilly owned the US market with an 85% share, and Novo Nordisk was mostly successful in Europe. What happened in the past 10 years is remarkable. The insulin market has tripled, currently being in excess of $30B, from $7B in 2006, and predicted to approach $45B in 2021.  The insulin market is currently one of the largest therapeutic markets in the pharma world, and before its patent expiry, Lantus (Sanofi) was among the  World’s 5 largest drugs by revenue and clearly by profit. Even after generic entry, Lantus is among the top 10 at almost $8B sales.

So have we beaten diabetes in those years? No.

Being diagnosed with T1D is no longer a death sentence, but we are far from done. Despite having the best doctors, education and access to care, I struggled with control and eventually suffered from microvascular complications clearly driven by diabetes. Insulin, for me, was not enough and I am not alone. Diabetes is still the most common cause for blindness, kidney failure and amputations in the developed world, and increases the risk for heart attacks and stroke by about 4 times. It also leads to depression, cognitive dysfunction, impotence, dental disorders and various other issues. It truly attacks every cell in the body and accelerates the aging process.

What is happening in the innovative landscape, such as academia and small companies, is not reflective of the severity of the disease.

While we are seeing major influx of capital and talent into important areas such as cancer, immunology, and infectious disease, we are not seeing the same in diabetes. The average endocrinologist is above 60 years of age. Young scientists are not lining up to do research in diabetes, and funding into disease organizations for diabetes is going down as evidenced by JDRF research funding. In fact, 2015 revenues were down by $84M from 2008 and $26M from 2014 (http://thejdca.org/jdrf-financials/).

The for profit side is not much better. Venture capital is not going toward diabetes, and the new IPOs are not diabetes companies. An analysis done by BIO, showed that of all private financing only 5.7% went to metabolism, while 24.2% went to oncology. Only 5.3% of IPOs were in the metabolism field, while 22.8% were oncology related (https://www.bio.org/articles/emerging-therapeutic-company-investment-and-deal-trends). In the established company’s deal-making allocations, metabolism did even worse, with 3% of all licensing and M&A deals being in metabolism, while 26% went to oncology and 28% to infectious disease.

There are some great examples of success in our space where risk takers have made money and delivered new therapies and devices to market that have made a differences. We applaud investors in, for example, Dexcom (Don Lucas) and Animas (HLM management), companies that brought us continuous glucose monitoring and consumer-friendly insulin pumps.

Currently, we believe in the future for several companies, for example the ten finalists in the Lyfebulb Novo Nordisk Innovation 2016 Award competition including marketing veteran, Jeff Dachis’s OneDrop, John Sjolund’s Timesulin and newcomer (and winner) Brianna Wolin’s FidYourDitto. http://lyfebulb.com/lyfebulb-innovation-award-at-the-innovation-summit/. Recently, JDRF, announced the launch of their T1D Fund which will aim to invest donated funds into companies and their first bet was on BigFoot, a company run by former JDRF CEO, Jeffrey Brewer.  

What is also interesting when you reflect on the diabetes industry is the lack of smaller, public companies that are willing to place bets on emerging technologies and settle for revenues that are less than blockbuster quantities. There are less than 20 public diabetes companies in the US, with a majority being very large, and at least half of them in devices (http://investsnips.com/list-of-publicly-traded-medical-equipment-and-device-companies-focusing-on-diabetes/).

These kind of numbers do not generate new drugs/diagnostics/devices to help improve the quality of life for people with diabetes. The total number of people with diabetes is growing exponentially. There are 29 million diabetics in the US, 86 million with prediabetes, and a worldwide prevalence of over 400 million. The cost of diabetes in the US is approaching $300B, up from $245B in 2012 (http://www.diabetes.org/advocacy/news-events/cost-of-diabetes.html?gclid=CMPI_KCe4NECFQ6BswodnE4PlQ ). Interestingly, the cost is not driven by the drugs that treat diabetes (12% of total), but by the cost for complications and hospital care.

So what can we do about this relative lack of innovation and disinterest from the medical and investment communities about a disease that is taking lives, crippling people, and causing enormous damage to our economy? In my opinion there is a big need to change our attitude toward diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is not a lifestyle disease that can just be addressed with diet and exercise. Type 1 diabetes is not a disease that can merely be addressed with insulin and better glucose measuring methods. More insulin in type 1 causes more difficulties in regulating sugar and a greater likelihood of complications. Not addressing the underlying problems with type 2 diabetes will never solve the problem of why certain families have both obesity and type 2 diabetes in every generation.

I was wrong when I hid my type 1 diabetes for almost 20 years, and I was wrong when I tried to show that diabetes did not affect me.

Type 1 diabetes does affect the person and we must take it seriously. I know that organizations advocating for diabetes often try to portray success stories of people running fast, jumping high, climbing mountains, and winning trophies, but that is not the norm and those people would be winners with or without diabetes. Before I was diagnosed with diabetes I was the third best tennis player in my country and the top student in my school. I was a competitive person and diabetes did not change that, it actually drove me harder, but my body eventually told me to stop.

We must encourage financial institutions such as venture capitalists and banks to invest more money into companies doing innovative work in the field. We must encourage research in academia, and we must push the large companies that are doing well selling drugs that save our lives. Only with a newfound interest in the area will we see talent moving to diabetes, and only with the clear articulation of an unmet patient need will we see the overall landscape shifting towards addressing the opportunity. Investing in metabolic companies is a target for Lyfebulb and we hope many will join us. It will bring both health and wealth to our constituents.

Together we can beat diabetes.


How Diabetes Changed My Life

At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was the worst day of my life.

I was devastated. At the time I was a competitive tennis player in Sweden and had represented my country on several occasions in the European and World championships. I was in the best physical shape of my life, and did not like losing. That made this diagnosis worse, since I could not accept or even understand how I could be punished like this. My lack of acceptance made everything more difficult. My two younger sisters, Anna and Lisa, who were 6 and 14 at the time, were supportive but in shock. I was their big sister who had always been strong, and now I was in the hospital. I would have to inject insulin multiple times daily, change my diet, and face the risks of short and long term complications from a disease we did not know much about.

Upon diagnosis, I made the decision to dedicate my future to discovering a cure for diabetes.

I would go to medical school as soon as I graduated from high school. I got accepted to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden where I graduated with both MD and PhD degrees after only six years. My research was, of course, in diabetes, but I kept a promise to myself not to let diabetes affect my behavior or require others to adjust to my needs. To do so I kept my diagnosis a secret from everyone except my family and doctors. Even my best friends in high school and my med school classmates had no idea that I suffered from the condition. When I stood before more than 100 people in the grand auditorium at the Karolinska Institute to defend my thesis, the only person outside of my family who knew that I was diabetic was my advisor, Professor Kerstin Brismar. This was because she also happened to be my medical doctor.

After almost 20 years with diabetes, in the spring of 2007, I found myself working long hours for a Scandinavian venture capital fund. I had severe anemia, uncontrolled hypertension and with diabetic macular edema in both eyes. I was not yet 35 years of age, but my body was telling me that if I did not change my behavior, I would not make it to 40. I was forced to “come out” as a diabetic to my partners at the Fund, to my friends and to the industry I was working in. I needed health care and I needed a complete reset of my body. I spent the summer not working, something which had not happened since high school (even as a child I would be busy with tennis tournaments during the summer) and started thinking about my future.   The decision to go to medical research and “find a cure for diabetes” which I had made as a 16 year-old newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic, had been modified over the years. I stopped everything to look back at my years in finance and other environments that did not allow me to focus on the long term because each day was consumed by its own report card. A situation like that is not healthy for anyone, but for someone with a chronic disease, and especially someone ashamed of that disease who does not let anyone help, it is disastrous.

I made the firm decision to work in diabetes and to make an impact for others while allowing my body to take center stage and try to fix what was damaged.

At Johnson & Johnson I was given an opportunity to lead what was called the Metabolic Taskforce where I was exposed to all existing products in the category as well as any new products being considered by the pharma, device and consumer divisions.

Unfortunately, the damage to my body had gone too far and I faced the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. My eyes were healed but I had lost my entire peripheral vision and my night vision, but at least I was not blind. The kidneys were more difficult to fix, but my family came through and I received a kidney transplant from my father in March of 2009. 

He saved my life and gave me the motivation to be healthier and to make an impact.

Nine months later I received a whole organ pancreas transplant and my life took an incredible new turn – no more diabetes. I did not realize how bad I had felt for so long – it had been twenty years of insulin injections, highs and lows and constant monitoring. Even worse was the fatigue and the sense of vulnerability I had when on insulin. Now I feel free and ready to enjoy life and plan for the future, which poses new interesting dilemmas for a person like myself, who has lived day by day! Of course there are risks and issues with my new situation. To avoid rejection of my kidney and pancreas, I must take immune suppressants for the rest of my life. Those drugs increase my risk of developing certain kinds of cancer and limit my ability to fight infections. However, I am strong, happy and, importantly, I am surrounded by people I respect, and I am doing what I love on a daily basis!

In this blog, I will be relating parts of my story in more detail as well as how I see the future and what we are doing to try to impact it for everyone. I am not alone in my story – there are so many like me who are struggling with chronic disease. When I founded Lyfebulb together with Riccardo Braglia, Helsinn Group Vice Chairman and CEO and Steve Squinto, PhD, co-founder of Alexion and Venture Partner at Orbimed in 2014, it was with the broad goal to address the gaps I had experienced during my personal journey with diabetes and as a business woman and medical scientist.

My goal for Lyfebulb is to create a global organization that is patient-centric and functions as the voice for a larger population of patients, who have until this point been vulnerable and receptive rather than strong and proactive. We feel that it is patients’ responsibility and opportunity to be innovators, teachers and influencers.

Above all, I want to showcase individuals, who like myself, are not accepting of the role of a passive patient, but willing to take on the challenge of changing the future for themselves and others living with chronic disease.

Why We Are Launching a Diabetes Innovation Fund – T1D Capital by Lyfebulb

Lyfebulb, the company I co-founded with Dr. Steve Squinto, Venture partner Orbimed and Riccardo Braglia, CEO Helsinn, three years ago, is about to launch an early-stage Diabetes Innovation Venture Fund focused on breakthrough opportunities in autoimmune, insulin-dependent diabetes and other associated autoimmune diseases. Our goals are to deliver a superior return on investment and to remove the burden of autoimmune diabetes.

With Lyfebulb, we have created a community focused on chronic disease, and we are relentless in articulating the voice of the patient to bring forward better products, improve compliance and put pressure on industry to listen to the consumer.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is my particular problem, but I am not alone.

There are millions of people like myself, and even more who care about someone who has the disease. Most people have heard about diabetes, but many ask me, “isn’t this just a disease of the Western world, a disease that if we only ate better and exercised more, we would not have to worry about?” Most people perceive diabetes to be a less ”severe” disease than for example cancer.

Here are some facts:

  1. There are 29M people with diabetes in the US, and another 86M with pre-diabetes, of which 90% are Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), a disease of inflammation and insulin resistance, which initially can be treated with diet, exercise, and oral medications, is often diagnosed mid-life and in people who are overweight. 5-10% are T1D, a disease of the immune system, always requires insulin injections, and is most often diagnosed in young people
  2.  Both T1D and T2D present with elevated blood sugar levels, and are leading causes for blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and increase the risk for stroke and heart disease several-fold, are the 3rd leading cause for death in the US, and accounts for over $250B/year in spending. The burden T1D has on society, is disproportionate to its prevalence vs T2D

How has industry and the public reacted to these data? Well, the large and growing numbers of T2D patients have attracted multinational companies, scientists and media to spend large sums of money and time on solving the T2D problem. The reality is that the numerous drugs available for T2D are both insufficient and ineffective to keep people in range. There is a very large behavioral component to T2D, and without human as well as electronic help, patients do not take their drugs, do not change their diets, and do not exercise more. 

In my opinion, in T2D, we should focus more on incentive models to keep T2D patients in control and let the drugs that are on the market become easily accessible and less expensive. This brings about a shift for the pharmaceutical industry, which historically has led with an expensive new drug and cared less about the behavioral programs that must go with them. New models are emerging, with companies such as Fitscript (exercise), Wellth (employer-driven behavior modification) and Fit4D (force amplifying nurses to add the human touch), as well as companies, such as Livongo and Glooko, where the sugar levels are explained to patients and prompts are given so that people have a diabetes guide with them all the time. Community-based support is another way to go, and here OneDropToday has a great model, where the glucose strips are unlimited and the support comes from fellow patients.

For T1D, the body is no longer making insulin. Treatment may improve with behavior modification, but this is far from enough. Although insulin saves lives, it is not a Cure and causes major side effects such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), weight gain, and cannot completely remove the risk of late-stage complications such kidney failure and heart disease. No one wants to think about their disease all the time, but for a person with T1D that is the only way to stay in control. Some people argue that this control forces them to change their life for the better, allows them to focus on health, but I don’t think anyone would say no to a break from diabetes management if offered.

Companies such as BetaBionics and Bigfoot, as well as large companies such as JNJ, Dexcom and Medtronic, are working on fully automated systems that combine insulin dosing with glucose measuring, which theoretically could remove some of the burden of disease from patients with T1D and keep them safe. This has been called the “artificial pancreas project”, an effort that has been driven hard by the JDRF, and now has triggered multiple financial rounds and start-ups.

This is great for the T1D space, but it still is not a Cure.

I have already mentioned how the two types of diabetes are different. Now let us compare T1D to other autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Addison’s disease, MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). In all these diseases, the immune system attacks part of “self”, i.e., part of the person’s own body, instead of attacking only foreign objects such as virus, bacteria, parasites or even transplants.

The difference between some of the autoimmune diseases, such as RA, IBD and MS, vs T1D, is that they have apparent relapsing remitting symptoms, i.e., the person gets worse and then better again, since the cells that are being attacked manage to regenerate. Over time, there is often a progressive nature to the diseases, but with new drugs, there may be some recovery and even fewer episodes going forward.

In T1D, the beta cells seem to be completely lost and except for a period in the early stages of T1D, often described as the honeymoon, one can never get off insulin. New studies, including those of JDRF’s nPOD project (led by Mark Atkinson), for example, have shown that we may have been wrong in many of our beliefs about the disease. For example, the amount of loss at diagnosis is much more variable than one thought. It is still difficult to show the dynamic nature of the disease since biopsies of the pancreas are not done readily.

What is next, I believe there are at least 3 main scenarios for T1D, where we could complement insulin therapy, even if we cannot Cure the disease immediately. A prerequisite for these scenarios is the earlier diagnosis of T1D. It is already possible to measure autoantibodies in healthy individuals and accurately diagnose beta-cell autoimmunity. It is possible to predict the decline of beta-cells and give us a timeline for the full-blown disease. In certain geographies, this method is already in place, for example in Southern Sweden led by Professor Ake Lernmark, Lund, and through TrialNet in the United States, led by Professor Carla Greenbaum in Seattle. Screening school children for beta cell autoantibodies has began in Colorado. The aim is to diagnose T1D at an early stage to have a better chance to develop preventive measures.

  1. Supplementing beta-cells with either embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells or transdifferentiated cells (autologous cells that have been converted to beta cells in the laboratory). The proof of concept has been shown through transplantation of cadaveric beta cells and pancreata, which renders the patient free of insulin. That option is not a viable one for all people, due to the requirement of immune suppressants, limited supply of beta-cells and pancreata. However, there are a number of laboratories and companies working on alternatives: Viacyte being the leader in embryonic stem cells, with academics such as Professors Doug Melton (Harvard), Bob Langer (MIT) and Camillo Ricordi (Miami) following. Orgenesis (ORGS) is a public company that is about to test its transdifferentiated (liver) cells in clinical trials.
  2. Addressing the immune system through combination therapies that halt the attack before a majority of cells are gone. This pathway can also be used in established diabetes to allow for lower insulin doses and thus an easier managed disease through reduced glucose volatility. There have been some failures here, but the field has moved forward through these experiences. Thought leaders include Professor Jeff Bluestone, UCSF, Professor Kevan Herold, Yale, and Professors Lernmark and Atkinson. Interesting approaches also include Dr. Alan Lewis’ DiaVacs and Professor Santamaria’s Parvus. We should learn from oncology and not be afraid of combination therapies!
  3. Through above mentioned studies of nPOD pancreas, it has been shown that beta-cells might be subject to waves of immune attack (much like other autoimmune diseases), with the time of diagnosis being a period of pronounced destruction. Beyond nPOD, studies of human islets suggest that regeneration of beta cells appears possible, in that at least three drugs have been found capable of inducing such actions. Professors Mathias Hebrok, USCF, Klaus Kaestner, U Penn, and Doug Melton have all ventured into this space.

Taken together, novel understanding of the disease pathology and the comparison to other autoimmune disease, suggest with earlier intervention and the right drugs (or cell therapy), we may be able to prevent the absolute dependency on insulin and even Cure T1D, and insulin-dependent T2D.

An absolute must, is to continuously improve our understanding of the human immune system. We need to explain why and how our immune system gets the signal to attack our own beta cells. It will be necessary to study people not rodents. This is where disease foundations such as the JDRF and government (the NIH) are doing incredible funding work.

I have a personal interest in making sure that we find a Cure for this disease in the not too distant future.

I had a pancreas transplant that “Cured” my T1D in 2010, and since then I have not dosed insulin. However, I am on very toxic immune suppressant drugs that have already caused several serious infections, they render me more vulnerable to certain kinds of cancer, and they cause minor side effects such as hypertension and nausea. I do not ever want to go back on insulin, but the prognosis for my transplanted pancreas is uncertain. At some point, my autoimmune disease will break through and kill my new cells. I also risk rejecting my pancreas since my body does not fully accept it as my “own”. The very drugs that reduce my immune response to this organ are also very toxic to my pancreas and each year, it develops more scar tissue.

I won’t give up until there is a Cure. I have seen what diabetes can do to people – as a medical doctor I have taken care of patients with wounds that won’t heal, eyes that do not see, and kidneys that require dialysis. I have seen young and old people who are depressed due to the constant monitoring and the loss of control and I have known people who died from the disease.

This is why we have decided to create a new kind of Venture Fund – T1D Capital – focused on T1D but solutions will be applicable in associated autoimmune diseases and insulin-dependent T2D. We will identify, invest in, and manage companies that are in the regenerative medicine and immunology space that will deliver breakthrough solutions for people like myself and so many others.

Patient Entrepreneur Brianna Wolin of Find Your Ditto Selected as the First Recipient of the Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award

Innovation Award Recognizes One Patient Entrepreneur for Her Innovative Idea for Management of Diabetes Using Consumer, Medical Devices, or Healthcare Information Technologies

NEW YORK, Dec. 07, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Patient Entrepreneur and Founder & CEO of Find Your Ditto, Brianna Wolin was named recipient of the inaugural Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award for her work in addressing the management of diabetes. Brianna was selected from a grouping of ten finalists after dozens of Award submissions were received from 15 countries. The selection was made by a panel of judges consisting of international representatives of the diabetes patient community.

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/cad5bf80-ac92-4973-9ba5-3d147b14a7f3.

“To be recognized by an innovative organization such as Lyfebulb and Novo Nordisk, a global pharmaceutical leader in diabetes care, is a true honor and an affirmation that our work to helping change the landscape surrounding isolation and depression in chronic illness communities is fully worthwhile,” said Brianna Wolin. “I’m so proud to have our mission – creating a world where no person living with a chronic illness ever has to feel alone – is highlighted by this award.”

The Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award spotlights one outstanding patient entrepreneur’s innovative efforts and ideas to better manage chronic disease via consumer products, medical devices, or healthcare information technology.

Brianna Wolin was selected from a distinguished grouping of patient entrepreneur finalists that included:

Shilo Ben-Zeev, Smartzyme, Israel;
Jeff Dachis, OneDrop, USA;
Shantanu Gaur, MD, Allurion, USA;
Matt Loper, Wellth, USA;
Charles O’Connell, FitScript, USA;
Scott Smith, Socrates, USA;
Anna Sjoberg, Anna PS, Sweden;
John Sjolund, Patients Pending Ltd, UK;
David Weingard, Fit4D, USA;
Brianna Wolin, Find Your Ditto, USA.

All finalists attended the Innovation Summit held December 6-7, 2016 hosted by Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Summit was designed to provide an opportunity for visibility and recognition in this highly competitive arena as well as professional discussion and inspiration for developing ideas further.

“With the global interest in and success of this first Award and event, we are excited about the future for the Innovation Award to grow and for Lyfebulb and Novo Nordisk to expand and strengthen our relationship,” said Dr. Karin Hehenberger, CEO and Founder of Lyfebulb. “Clearly, this effort demonstrates that patient entrepreneurs play a key role in helping people living with chronic disease. At Lyfebulb, we will continue to uncover and give voice to patient entrepreneurs who must be a part of the solution to chronic disease.”

Senior Vice President for Novo Nordisk Device R&D Kenneth Strømdahl added, “While patient-centered companies such as Novo Nordisk will continue to play an important role in bringing innovative solutions for people living with diabetes, this competition proves that passionate patient entrepreneurs are making a real difference to advance the management and care of a chronic condition such as diabetes.”

More information on the Innovation Award, the winner, the sponsors and Summit, as well as each of the finalists and selection process, can be found on the Lyfebulb Website.

About Brianna Wolin
Brianna Wolin is a passionate entrepreneur, biomedical engineer and food blogger.
Find Your Ditto, FYD, which began as a student project during her time at the University of Michigan, has earned Brianna several awards at the University as well as recognition by SPARK Ann Arbor, including a fully-funded entrepreneurial bootcamp experience and a commitment to continued guidance. Brianna has lived with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease the majority of her life. Her food blog, A Different Survival Guide, grew out of her need to cook all of her own low carb, gluten free meals unavailable in campus dining halls.
Brianna is the Chief Executive Officer of Find Your Ditto, responsible for engagement with universities and healthcare systems, marketing, legal matters, and company finances.

About Lyfebulb
Lyfebulb is an organization focused on bringing innovative products and solutions focused on chronic disease to market. Lyfebulb serves as a bridge between patients and industry, and its mission is to improve the quality of life of those living with chronic disease NOW.
See www.lyfebulb.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Karin Hehenberger LinkedIn, and Lyfebulb LinkedIn.

About Novo Nordisk
Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with more than 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. This heritage has given us experience and capabilities that also enable us to help people defeat other serious chronic conditions: hemophilia, growth disorders and obesity. Headquartered in Denmark, Novo Nordisk employs approximately 42,300 people in 75 countries and markets its products in more than 180 countries. For more information, visit novonordisk.comFacebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube.

Press Contact for Lyfebulb: 
Shepard Doniger
BDCG, Inc.

Announcing the Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award Winner!

The first Lyfebulb Novo-Nordisk Innovation Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark has wrapped! After a few jam-packed days that included dinners, workshops, speeches by Lyfebulb founder and CEO, Karin Hehenberger, and Novo Nordisk Senior Vice President, Device R&D, Kenneth Strømdahl, as well as pitches from each of our ten patient entrepreneur finalists, we have a WINNER!

Congratulations to Brianna Wolin, CEO and co-founder of Find Your Ditto, who received the first ever Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award! Wolin’s company is a mobile platform for connecting individuals living with the same chronic illness locally for on-demand, in-person peer support.


“To be recognized by an innovative organization such as Lyfebulb and Novo Nordisk, a global pharmaceutical leader in diabetes care, is a true honor and an affirmation that our work to helping change the landscape surrounding isolation and depression in chronic illness communities is fully worthwhile,” said Brianna Wolin. “I’m so proud to have our mission – creating a world where no person living with a chronic illness ever has to feel alone – highlighted by this award.”

The competition was judged by five key opinion leaders and influences in the diabetes community, and Wolin was selected from a distinguished group of patient entrepreneur finalists that included:

  • Shilo Ben-Zeev, Smartzyme, Israel;
  • Jeff Dachis, OneDrop, USA;
  • Shantanu Gaur, MD, Allurion, USA;
  • Matt Loper, Wellth, USA;
  • Charles O’Connell, FitScript, USA;
  • Scott Smith, Socrates, USA;
  • Anna Sjoberg, Anna PS, Sweden;
  • John Sjolund, Patients Pending Ltd, UK;
  • David Weingard, Fit4D, USA.

We are very proud of all who participated! Every one of them is truly doing magnificent work in advancing the management and care of diabetes.

Once again, congratulations Brianna! We are looking forward to the growth and success of Find Your Ditto!

Omar Hassan: In Conversation

We are excited for our event in collaboration with Unix Gallery and Contini Art UK , where we will have a live performance by artist Omar Hassan! (Make sure to RSVP to andrew@unixgallery.com)

In anticipation, here is an interview between Contini Art UK’s sales and marketing director, Diego Giolitti, and artist Omar Hassan where Omar discusses the partnership with Lyfebulb, his inspiration, and his Breaking Through exhibition.


Diego Giolitti: Welcome, Omar. I would like to start our conversation by talking about the upcoming event organized by Lyfebulb, the charity that has invited you to exhibit your work in a solo show in Manhattan, New York. What does this show mean to you as an artist? The fact that you are exhibiting in New York, and that you have been chosen by LYFEBULB to take part in this project? What are your expectations for the show? How do you see this experience unfolding and why did you agree to take part in the project?

Omar Hassan: New York is one of the world’s great capitals of the arts, having a solo exhibition here is really stimulating for me as an artist. The success and interest generated by my three previous exhibitions, that have been dedicated to my Breaking Through series, has created a level of expectation within the New York art scene, something that I am very flattered by and proud of. Above all, however, I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with Lyfebulb. Dr. Karin Hehenberger (the head of Lyfebulb) and I have many things in common, but two factors have really stood out for me. Firstly, of course, is the fact that we both have type 1 diabetes, and secondly is the passion that we both put into our work in order to have as many people as possible understand that having a chronic illness does not mean that you cannot go on living your life and achieving your dreams. Lyfebulb’s goal is to change the quality of life and thinking of those who suffer from a chronic condition for the better, and this is something I strongly support.

Having a chronic illness does not mean that you cannot go on living your life and achieving your dreams.

DG: Indeed, there is a clear connection between this exhibition and your past ones. I regard this upcoming exhibition in New York as the next step along a path that started with your solo show at ContiniArtUK in London, your representative gallery, where you first exhibited pieces from the Breaking Through series. I remember at the time that you said to me, ‘I feel that these works fully represent my current production, but I also see them as belonging to a specific phase of my career.’ These words implicitly expressed your wish not to be misrepresented or labelled by the public as ‘Omar, the artist-boxer’. Can you expand on why your art can not be labelled as the work of a boxer turned painter? Why should we regard such a description of your work as false, or too limiting?

OH: I have always said that I wanted to incorporate a very important aspect of my life into my artistic research: namely boxing, the sport that has given me so much on both a personal and educational level. I wanted to bring to light the concept that lies behind this sport which, for me, can be considered as a metaphor for life. In boxing, as in life, you are alone; boxing requires hard work and daily effort; when you are knocked down you must get back up on your feet and continue to fight. In terms of what is put across by the media, who provide a superficial insight into the work I have done with my Breaking Through series, it may lead one to closely associate the terms “artist” with “boxer”. However, I want to point out that I am not a Floyd Mayweather Jr who suddenly started painting. Rather, I am an artist who studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, who carried out my own research in painting, and simply decided to incorporate a very important aspect of my life into my art.  In addition, boxing works well in terms of synthesizing a pictorial gesture with a strong visual impact, demonstrating the coherence of these paintings as a whole; in the sense that they belong to the same creative phase in my work. I am saying this without wishing to push the parallels too far, but we have had Fontana’s cuts and Pollock’s drippings, so why not Hassan’s punches? These synthesizing gestures can work, but only when they are contextualized within the broader framework of an artist’s oeuvre. So I believe it is important to contextualize this phase of my career. But I also believe that anyone – from collectors to casual observers – can clearly see that I am not merely a boxer who uses his sport to paints pictures.


DG: This aspect is extremely important to me too and, as someone who has supported you since the beginning of your career, I want the public to know about it. I have watched your journey unfold and, especially in the past 2 years, I have witnessed a huge development, particularly in terms of technique. Thanks to a process of inner growth and maturation, your artistic identity has become even clearer, more distinct and, most importantly, more accessible. But we will get back to this point in a minute. Art is a message and can have an educational function, and I think that this aspect is very important in your case. Lyfebulb has chosen you because, among other reasons, through your artistic practice you have revealed something personal about yourself. Your Injections series directly references the fact that you have diabetes and, as previously mentioned, your Breaking Through series which clearly displays your love of boxing. Lyfebulb has chosen you so that you can be an example to others, showing them that, regardless of one’s initial situation, one can achieve anything in life. Each of us must find strength in his or herself and aim for his or her goal. Do you agree?

OH: Of course, that is what I meant when I was talking about boxing, but equally I do not presume to educate anyone. I believe in art being an experience that is part of our sensory and cognitive life. This is my motto. So I took facts and experiences from my life and turned them into something that the public could empathize with, something that others, too, could benefit from. Obviously I am honored to have been selected by Lyfebulb and I hope that I too can be an example (in the sense I have just explained) to young people and adults alike.

DG: Let us now talk about the use of gesture in your work. From an art theory perspective, it can be said that sign and gesture are the first steps towards the rationalisation of artistic production. Without the sign, comprehension is impossible. In my opinion, gesture has always been a dominant and fundamental element in your art. Of course, an artist’s technique and stance are a very revealing factor on which the resulting artwork depends.

OH: I have always been committed to keeping my painting contemporary and current. Nowadays it is very difficult to be original and contemporary with painting because of the amount of techniques which have already been explored throughout art history. Today, producing a painting means assuming a responsibility. I want to take this responsibility, I want to carry an artistic research through pictorial (and, in my case, primordial) gestures inspired by the works of the historical avant-garde as well as the new avant-garde in the last century. I have always tried to remain contemporary in my work through gestures that produce signs that lead to traces of the real. My approach has always remained the same ever since I started using cans of spray paint, the tools that originally inspired me to practice art and explore artistic expression. The can of spray paint became like a breath of life, bringing together my entire culture and tradition, leading me to more impetuous and instinctive gestures, like that of the punch in the Breaking Through paintings. This big punch is a simple (i.e., primordial) element. A punch has an incredible amount of concentrated energy that should not be considered in a negative light; it is both an acceleration of energy and a very fast movement.

DG: So, you do not want to make a distinction between sensation and thought. There is almost an element of spontaneous organization in what you do. The element of spontaneity.

OH: But my spontaneity is well thought-out.

DG: Do you mean that you deliberately channel your spontaneity?

OH: All of my work stems from an idea, from a concept; technique is never the starting point for me. I do not develop a concept after finishing the work; rather, the work is the result of the development of a concept.

DG: So there is a sort of balance between sensation and thought in your art, which is one of the hardest things to achieve for an artist. Another very interesting aspect of your work is its honesty – there is a part of yourself in your work, a part of your life. I am in love with your Injection painting titled “Self-portrait”, which has been included in this catalogue. I find it fascinating in that it is a reflection of your soul, of who you are as an artist. For me this piece depicts both the development of an idea, and the use of gesture, which is a truly distinguishing feature of your work. Something I have always wanted to know but was afraid to ask is, why this particular painting was the point when you said to yourself, ‘This is a portrait of myself’?  Could you describe the painting and share something about the process that led you to its creation?

Egyptian Italian artist Omas Hassan exhibtion. He uses his experience as a former boxer to create his work. Omas Hassan

OH: I painted this work during the preparation for my exhibition at ContiniArtUK in London. A classical frame surrounds a white-on- white dotted background that took several days to complete. Later on I spray-painted a black dot in the middle of the canvas, a singular point from which the paint drips down to the bottom of the canvas. I entitled it “Self- portrait” because since the very beginning I regarded it as the last painting in my Injections series, as it is a chromatic and conceptual synthesis. This explains the use of black and white. Everybody has inside them two different parts, one for the entire world to see, the other only for themselves. I wanted to bring out both of these parts. “Self-portrait” explains this dualism: what you see is not always the reality. Because it took me such a long time to paint the white element of the canvas and only only a few minutes to paint the small black dot, in that painting I am not the black dot but I am the white mass around it. It means that sometimes the things that stay in the background, the things you don’t see, are the most important. The essential is often invisible to the eye…

DG: This is a wonderful metaphorical translation of your self-portrait. The first time I saw that painting, with its title, I did not think it portrayed your physical features, your mood or your personality. After all, as I know you well, you are a cheerful person and could never be a black dot (an orange one, perhaps, since orange is your favorite color). You certainly know that white light is made of all the colors, while black neutralizes them all. I thought that this painting portrayed the difficulties of your artistic journey; I thought it represented a farewell to a specific expressive form (Injections) and the need to start a new phase. So, I interpreted it as an artistic transition. I am happy you said that because I feel that I managed to connect with your art and understand on a certain level, or at least I hope so. What do you want to achieve with this solo show in New York? What do you expect from it?

OH: I hope to expand my artistic horizons and start on a new path that will help me grow as an artist and as a person. I also hope that my experience in New York will be as stimulating as the one I had in London when I first exhibited at ContiniArtUK.

DG: Is there anything else you would like to say to your public? Anything that may help them to better understand you or your art, or that you just wish to emphasize?

OH: My motto is, ‘artistic research’. I will never be satisfied with a beautiful painting, I will always try to make more paintings, even worse ones, but I will never stop creating.

DG: What do you mean by ‘worse ones’?

OH: There is no guarantee that I will constantly improve, I do not presume to say that I will constantly improve; but I can certainly say that I will always try to do better.

DG: This is so beautiful, and you know, one of the things that I have always liked about you as an artist is that you do not settle for a style or form and reproduce it endlessly but, rather, you are constantly looking for new avenues to express your vision.

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