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Prize recipient glimpses a future without insulin injections

John Andrew Todd, Professor at the University of Oxford, is receiving the 2021 EASD–Novo Nordisk Foundation Prize for Excellence for his 35 years of efforts to understand, prevent and combat type 1 diabetes. He foresees a time when type 1 diabetes and daily insulin injections will be a thing of the past. Photo: Stephen Foote.

When insulin was discovered 100 years ago, the cause of type 1 diabetes had only just been discovered. Since then, there has been a constant struggle to understand why the immune system of people with diabetes attacks the body.

For 35 years, University of Oxford Professor John Andrew Todd has conducted world-class research to understand, prevent and combat type 1 diabetes. For his outstanding efforts, John Andrew Todd is receiving the 2021 EASD–Novo Nordisk Foundation Diabetes Prize for Excellence.

The Prize, which is accompanied by DKK 6 million (€806,000), is awarded to recognize outstanding research or technology contributions that increase knowledge of diabetes, its disease mechanisms or its complications.

The Prize is awarded in collaboration between the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation, an independent Danish foundation.

“Well, my first thought was that I was overwhelmed and very honoured to receive the Prize. And my second was for type 1 diabetes, because the disease is the overlooked little brother of type 2. Well, this is changing. I think the scientific community underestimates what a burden it is to have a child with type 1 diabetes even if that child is using all the modern devices. Night-time is still a worry, for example, because a child might have a hypoglycaemic episode. So, I thank all the people with whom I have worked on type 1 diabetes and brought the field to where it is today,” says John Todd.

Stefano Del Prato, Chair of the Prize Committee and President of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), says:

“John Andrew Todd has been leading the genetic and mechanistic understanding of type 1 diabetes since 1986 and translating this knowledge into clinical trials and intervention studies while having a major impact on the study of all common, multifactorial diseases. Thus, John Todd is a true pioneer and visionary. His work is characterised by innovative thinking successfully translated into novel research targets, and it has fostered international collaborations with leading scientists in difficult clinical trials with children at high risk for type 1 diabetes.”

A driving force
John Todd, with his long-standing co-worker, Professor Linda Wicker, has been the driving force behind setting up important studies on the genetic background of type 1 diabetes that led to demonstrating the importance of the interleukin-2 pathway. Mild differences in the levels of interleukin-2 in the body can have huge effects on the immune system and ultimately lead to an autoimmune reaction and the development of the disease.

“We are therefore currently running a trial using a recombinant human interleukin-2 drug, called aldesleukin, to compensate for this deficiency as a treatment for type 1 diabetes. Our hope is the results will help to implement a therapy for children and young adults who have signs of autoimmunity but are not yet diagnosed with the disease and thus prevent progression of this serious disorder, which affects 1 in 400 children per year,” says John Todd.

Type 1 diabetes has lifelong implications such as blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy and cardiovascular disease. John Todd’s career has been dedicated to understanding the complex interaction of genes and environmental factors acting especially in the first year of life leading to the body’s own immune system destroying the cells in the pancreatic islets that produce insulin – and to use this knowledge to treat and ultimately prevent the disease.

“We learned a lot of lessons. Now many things are coinciding positively because of both new knowledge, new technologies, new ways of running clinical trials and collaborative networks, and a new wave of interest from the pharmaceutical/biotech industry. We are entering an era of genuine optimism in both prevention and treatment, so today, we can finally glimpse a world without type 1 diabetes and daily insulin injections,” concludes John Todd.

John Todd has published more than 500 original papers – including 12 recent publications in Science, Nature journals, Cell, and New England Journal of Medicine – and has more than 45,000 citations by scientific colleagues.

John Tood will officially receive the Prize on 29 September at the online 2021 EASD Annual Meeting.

About the Prize

The EASD–Novo Nordisk Foundation Diabetes Prize for Excellence is awarded to an internationally recognized researcher who has contributed significantly to diabetes research.

The Prize is accompanied by DKK 6 million – of which DKK 1 million is a personal award and the remaining DKK 5 million is for research purposes.

The Prize is awarded in collaboration between the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. A special prize committee appointed by the EASD decides the recipient, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation donates the money accompanying the Prize.

The Prize recipient’s research may focus on prevention, treatment and/or basic research in physiological biochemistry. The research may also be clinically oriented. In addition, the Prize may be awarded for the “discovery of the decade” within diabetes research.

About EASD

The European Association for the Study of Diabetes e.V. (EASD) is a membership-based academic non-profit organization. The aims of the Association are to encourage and support research in the field of diabetes, the rapid diffusion of acquired knowledge and to facilitate its application.

The EASD Annual Meeting is one of the largest diabetes-related conferences in the world, with more than 15,000 participants from over 130 countries. EASD is also an active player in postgraduate education and has trained over 40,000 healthcare professionals through postgraduate training courses and online education activities.

In 2000, the EASD increased its commitment to stimulate diabetes research in Europe by creating the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes (EFSD). Since its inception, the EFSD has committed over €100 million to diabetes research in Europe by various funding means.

EASD is the publisher of Diabetologia, a major monthly international diabetes journal with an impact factor of 10.1 (2020). For more information, please visit:

Further information

John Andrew Todd,

EASD Press Team: [email protected]

Novo Nordisk Foundation: Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, Communications, +45 3067 4805, [email protected]