Karin Hehenberger, MD, PHD: Patient Empowerment and Innovation

In Game Changers 17, Health, Health Tech by Mary KurekLeave a Comment

Mental Illness Innovation Challenge with United Health Group, July 2019

Dr. Karin Hehenberger is an experienced life sciences executive, who has
dedicated her career to applying medical science to impacting people living with
chronic disease. Dr. Hehenberger founded and launched Lyfebulb in January of
2014, after close to 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, which she
entered after obtaining M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the Karolinska
Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and conducting her post-doctoral work as
JDRF fellow at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical
School. Prior to Lyfebulb, Dr. Hehenberger held leadership positions in the
biopharmaceutical industry including at Johnson & Johnson, Eyetech
Pharmaceuticals, and Coronado Biosciences, as well as on the investment side
of healthcare at both private and public multi-billion dollar funds. Dr.
Hehenberger has published a book called “The Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes Cookbook .” She is a Swedish citizen but is based in New York City.  Lyfebulb is a chronic disease-focused, patient empowerment platform that connects patients and industry to support user-driven innovation. Lyfebulb promotes a healthy, take-charge lifestyle for those affected by chronic disease. Grounded with its strong foundation in Diabetes, the company has expanded disease states covered into cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and depression/anxiety.

Q & A with Karin

Q:  During your time at the JDRF, what did you find most challenging about finding solutions for youth who are battling the disease?

A:  My time at JDRF taught me a lot about Type 1 Diabetes as a chronic disease, including its background, etiology, and serious risks if not managed properly. Continuously throughout my career, I have also studied the issues people face on a daily basis, which is where we focus our efforts at Lyfebulb.  Some of the biggest issues remain the lengthy developmental pathways notorious in T1D, which include the burdensome FDA process and large clinical trials that are often required. Separately, the disease has so many unmet patient needs that have yet to be addressed. Even more resources and capabilities should be focused on addressing these unmet needs than what is currently allocated. I do believe that learnings from the general autoimmune space, and even immune therapy in cancer, could help people with T1D. If we could tilt the risk/reward equation for the authorities and the general audience, this shift could have an enormous impact on the future of T1D management.

Karin with Lyfebulb, CFO/COO Leslie Brille

Q:  You actually invest more than just your time into fighting diabetes, you’ve co-founded a company that helps engage patients for a more focused experience with their health. What prompted this side of your work?

A:  After a 20-year career in the healthcare industry and 25 years living with diabetes, I realized that I needed to be more nimble and creative in my approach to help others just like myself. Thus, the need to form my own company, Lyfebulb, arose.  I wanted the opportunity to move fast and pivot as needed. Two foundational concepts were key to the origination of Lyfebulb: “Patients need patients” and “Patients can be innovators.”  Based on these two ideas, we have now built targeted communities in six therapeutic areas with a network of 150 plus influencers in the healthcare space. We have also partnered with a large group of blue-chip companies to connect the industry with patients to accelerate user-driven innovation addressing patients’ unmet needs.

Q:  Lyfebulb is only just over 5 years old.  In that time, what do you feel has been most impactful?

Karin with 20-month-old daughter, appropriately named Liv.  Karin says, “I had her despite having T1D for thirty years, two transplants, a pacemaker and being over 40! She is a miracle and has transformed my life for the better. Through her, I learned how to take better care of myself since I have to be here for her, and, through her, I have also learned to live more in the now and enjoy life more.”

A:  The feedback that we receive on a daily basis from patients who finally feel connected, no longer alone, or scared is the most fulfilling impact we have. We inspire through innovation and we connect people with those who have gone down a similar path that they are about to enter. We help patients help themselves and we believe that the future of healthcare is self-care through patient empowerment. The insights and solutions from our patient ambassadors and entrepreneurs will yield technologies and products that will make life much better for those living with chronic disease.

Q:  What kind of innovations are you seeing coming along to prevent and/or manage diabetes and how is Lyfebulb promoting the advancement of these innovations?

A:  Importantly, we work in 6 different disease areas, but let me point out some approaches for diabetes that I believe will really make a difference.  For the prevention of T2D, we are seeing some technologies that involve lifestyle changes and behavior modification. These technologies need to be more than “just an app,” but also involve a human component to motivate people in different ways depending on where they are in their diabetes management journey, and in their life overall. For some, it involves education. Others are motivated by incentives, while other people require a community or even a buddy system. In the prevention of T1D, we need to take a different approach and study immunology and take on a population strategy. Managing diabetes goes beyond glucose, which in the future will be handled well with “closed-loop” systems. We must address all aspects of life since insulin is just not enough to manage the disease to “perfection.” I am interested in new drugs that enable insulin to work better, and even reduce the amount required for the same glucose values, thereby minimizing the risk for hypos and highs. The reality is that most people with diabetes do not want to think about their disease all the time, which is what is necessary today for optimal control. That being said, anything we can do to automate and simplify the technology is interesting so that people aren’t required to think about their condition 24/7. My own experience with a pancreas transplant has eliminated my need for exogenous insulin and is clearly attractive as a solution for more people, but the need for immunosuppression comes with its own set of complex issues!

Karin’s Networking Interests:

  • A person with impact in government, with an understanding of regulations/policy as well as the
    public ear
  • A person with strong digital storytelling powers, ie video/podcasts/social media – the ability to
    create viral campaigns
  • A person with technical development skills that complement an innate understanding of how
    humans connect, more specifically within the context of chronic disease


Linkedin:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/karin-hehenberger-67526b10

Website:  https://lyfebulb.com/

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