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Spare $10 for a Diabetes Cure?


Aug 1, 2004

Why Lee Iacocca Wants Your Money

Lee Iacocca is mad as hell about the state of diabetes research and he doesn’t want to take it anymore.

Like all of us, Lee Iacocca wants a diabetes cure. Iacocca does not have diabetes, but his wife, Mary, died in 1983 as a result of type 1 complications. Since then, he has spent millions of dollars of his own money to find a cure, only to encounter time and time again bureaucratic smoke, mirrors and nonsense.

But things may be changing.

That’s because Iacocca discovered a Massachusetts researcher named Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, whose work piqued his interest. Last year, Faustman regenerated islets by transplanting spleen cells from healthy mice into mice with autoimmune type 1 diabetes (Diabetes Health, March 2004; “The Latest Cure”).

Iacocca is intrigued by Faustman's research and believes that it is the most promising thing he has seen in all the years of being told a cure was “right around the corner.”

But nobody is taking Faustman as seriously as Iacocca thinks they should.

He has gone to Washington, D.C., and talked with members of President Bush’s cabinet about Faustman. He has talked with the major diabetes organizations. Even the National Institutes of Health, who for fiscal year 2005 have an estimated $1 billion budget earmarked for diabetes research (www.nih.gov/news/fundingresearchareas.htm), refused to free up about one percent of that for Faustman's work.

So Iacocca wants your help instead.

Yes, the man who became CEO of Chrysler Corporation and negotiated a $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee to rescue the automotive company needs you. The man whom President Reagan, in the 1980s, named to head the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island wants you on his team. The man whose autobiography “Iacocca” has sold more than seven million copies says he can't do it without you.

That’s because getting Faustman’s work to the clinical trial stage is going to cost about $11 million. The Iacocca Foundation is taking charge of raising money for the clinical trials.

Diabetes Health spoke with Lee Iacocca recently, and this is what he had to say:

Why did you get involved with Denise Faustman's work?

I don’t have diabetes, my wife did. But, like most people with diabetes, I’m frustrated. I was frustrated enough to write a letter to President Bush. I told him I don’t want to get into the whole stem cell debate and take on the Vatican. But I did tell him about Denise Faustman's research and asked, “Why not this?”

How do you want to go about getting Dr. Faustman's work recognized?

The National Institutes of Health is saying Denise's work needs to be replicated in humans before it can be taken seriously. A clinical trial involving humans is gonna cost about $11 million.

Fine!

I have already given Denise Faustman millions out of the Iacocca Foundation. But then I threw out a challenge grant, and I put in another million just recently to challenge 10 of my richest friends who have been touched by diabetes to match my $1 million, to come up with $11 million to start the clinical trials.

That didn't work out.

So I thought, why not do what [former presidential candidate] Howard Dean did and go to the Internet? I have a Million Man March in mind. There are two million people with type 1 in this country. If I get half of them to offer $10 each to hell with the million each from the rich guys then you've raised the $10 million, plus my $1 million. You can start the clinical trials.

So I need every other type 1 to give $10 to this cause. Of course, I know you have rules when raising money over the Internet, so I'll have to get it organized. But with the wonderful work Diabetes Health is doing, you can get the word out to hundreds of thousands of your readers right off the bat.

Do you think it will be easy to raise this money?

[Former Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neill once told me that to succeed in politics, you have to be able to mobilize people at the local level. Spread the word and raise money.

I once raised $540 million for the biggest private public deal in history, the Statue of Liberty restoration. To succeed in business, you simply need to find out what you stand for and focus on it. Then, hire the best damn people in the world, assess priorities and do something every day. It's about as simple a philosophy on business as you can have, but it works. It worked for me and it works for anybody.

I picked diabetes, obviously, for good reason. People will give money if it is for the right thing to do. A type 1 cure is the right thing to do.

So let’s start with Diabetes Health readers and take it from there.

What makes the Iacocca Foundation different from other organizations that raise money for diabetes causes?

When I started this foundation 20 years ago, I said I wanted pure research! I said I didn't want a bureaucracy. I didn’t want a lot of administrative expense. I want little guys in little white coats working with little white mice, figuring out the basic research on how to lick diabetes.

We’ve made some headway, but you have to ask: What’s the next step? You have to be able to move from a lab rat to a human. Denise Faustman is saying that in the next three years, they can finish the tests and see if humans can tolerate the spleen cells and start regenerating islets.

But as soon as you talk money for a clinical trial, all the rules come up. Some organizations actually say, “We don't give money for pure research.” Well, what the hell do you use it for then?

It just seems that nobody’s anxious for a breakthrough. So I want to go to the people and say, “Hey guys, we need your help. And we’ll make sure the money gets spent the right way. It will go to pure research.”

Are you convinced this is the best hope for a type 1 cure?

Well, I don't want to raise people’s expectations that this is the diabetes cure, but by the same token, you do want to give some hope. This looks like a horse that we can bet a little bit of money on. Not the farm, but a little bit of money.

We can’t change the world overnight, but we can nudge it a little in the right direction.


Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Inspiration, Islet & Pancreas Transplant, Personal Stories, Type 1 Issues, Type 1 Issues



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