Mike Step devoted the majority of his career to working for pharmaceutical companies that developed diabetes medications. His past roles included: CEO and Director at Ritter Pharmaceuticals, Sr. VP Corporate Development at Santarus, VP Corporate Development at Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and various roles at Dura Pharmaceuticals, Hoffmann-La Roche, and Syntex. After a long and successful career, he’s currently retired (and trying to learn golf) and we are so grateful for all of his work to improve the lives of people living with diabetes. He and his family have been longtime supporters of TCOYD, and he is this month’s TCOYD Champion. Here’s a little more about Mike and what drives his passion to help people with diabetes.
What is your connection to the diabetes community?
My connection to the diabetes community begins from my childhood. My father, Eugene Step, was a senior executive at Eli Lilly. We learned growing up about the deep Lilly commitment to the diabetes community since 1923, when they began developing and marketing insulin and other anti-diabetes medications to the world. When I was in college, I had a summer job at Lilly working in the factories, including the insulin filling line, giving me experience working with employees who were passionate about the purity and perfection of the drugs we were producing. Later, I was fortunate to work at Amylin where I was able to help a team of passionate visionaries develop Symlin and Byetta for people with diabetes. I was fortunate to meet many of the diabetes treatment and research thought leaders. Their intensity and focus on patients and treatments was so clear. Of the many therapeutic areas in which I was able to work, diabetes was my favorite due to their passion.
What inspired you to work with pharmaceutical companies that developed diabetes medications?
I was lucky to be able to work in the diabetes therapeutic area. The potential to affect the lives of so many patients suffering from diabetes was a real motivation. The passion of the researchers and the huge potential to help people were very attractive. Additionally, the development of wholly new agents for insulin-treated patients beyond improved forms of insulin was very compelling, and timing for this effort was great.
What was your favorite thing about working in the diabetes pharmaceutical industry?
I had such respect for the researchers developing the new drugs. Everyone was so patient-focused, and the altruism was palpable. We were all on a mission to find better treatments and find ways to fund these targets, either through investors or partner companies. It was a very exciting daily purpose.
What changes do you see coming to the pharmaceutical landscape that will enhance life for people with diabetes?
There are many improvements coming for people with diabetes that are very exciting and promising. Improvements and new products/devices to better monitor glucose and deliver medicines are coming fast. My daughter works at Dexcom, so I have a sense of how hard they are working on the future. Better therapeutic drug products are also coming. Newer agents recently launched like Trulicity, and coming soon dual agonists for non-insulin using patients will improve patients’ lives and their ability to manage their conditions. Additionally, new efforts in stem cells, Sertoli cells, immunotherapy and gene therapies, while somewhat early, look so promising as ways to truly affect the pathology of diabetes, and may offer cures for many people.
How did you first learn about TCOYD? And what does the organization and mission mean to you?
I first learned of Dr. Edelman and TCOYD while working for Amylin. We were preparing to build a commercial organization to market and sell Symlin should we be successful gaining approval at the FDA. One of our researchers suggested I meet Dr. Edelman as he was “the guy with his finger on the pulse of the diabetes patient”. I had lunch with Steve at UCSD one day. As we gathered our lunch and sat to eat in the cafeteria, he pulled out his kit and proceeded to finger stick and test his sugar, then adjusted his pump and then looked up at me as if to say, “Watch my burden and consider what a hassle it is to be a patient with diabetes.” It was an eye-opener. I had expected Steve to be a big cheerleader for us as drug developers, but he was a true skeptic. It took a lot of discussions and real data before Steve agreed with us about the benefits of our product. I learned that he truly evaluated every product from both the patient and the rigorous scientist perspectives before considering how it would affect his patients. He earned my respect then.
What is your favorite thing about TCOYD and/or Dr. Edelman?
We like TCOYD and Dr. E. because they focus on the patient. I was fortunate to work for a great leader at Amylin named Joe Cook. Joe used to always say if we take care of the patients, the rest of the stuff will fall into place. And by the way, the patients are us! Dr. E. and TCOYD are so focused on the patients. Helping people get through the huge amount of information (true and false) about living with diabetes is so helpful, and we like to support patient-focused efforts. Dr. E. is so great because, in spite of his drive and huge intellect, he has a super sense of humor and has such humility, which makes it fun.
What inspired your contribution to TCOYD?
We have a family foundation (The Step Family Foundation) through which we funnel our charitable efforts. Our stated mission is healthcare with a particular emphasis on patient-focused ways to improve the delivery of healthcare to patients. My mom, Hannah Step, and I make the decisions for this foundation. As TCOYD is so patient-focused and pulls from so many of our passions, it is a perfect fit. TCOYD is patient-focused, works with devices, diagnostics, therapeutics, and nutrition/exercise for the full picture on behalf of patients. I like to think of TCOYD as a combination of Consumer Reports, your doctor, your nurse, your nutritionist, and your diabetes educator all wrapped into one, focused on improving the patients’ lives… what is not to like. Plus, I always enjoyed Dr. E’s whiskey tastings in the pre-COVID era.
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