Column: Liane Levetan’s daughter might cure diabetes

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 16, 2010

Few mothers are as proud of their daughters as Liane Levetan is of her daughter Claresa “Resa” Levetan.

“It’s a story of a local girl does well,” former DeKalb County CEO Levetan said. “This will change the world.”

Since graduating from Emory University School of Medicine in 1983, Resa has become a leading endocrinologist specializing in the field of diabetes.

She helped found a privately held biopharmaceutical company — CureDM Inc. — in 2004 and served as its chief scientific officer and chief medical officer. The company, based in Wynnewood, Pa., has developed Pancreate, an experimental treatment for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

On April 8, a French company — Sanofi-Aventis — obtained the exclusive worldwide rights to Pancreate under a license agreement in a deal worth up to $335 million.

“This is something Resa has been working on for many, many years,” Liane Levetan said after the deal was announced. “It’s a cure for diabetes. It is not a medication. It will help regenerate the pancreas. Someone could take a shot to regenerate the cells and people suffering from diabetes could be taken off insulin.”

The official announcement described the treatment in more medical terms. In preclinical studies, Pancreate has been shown to stimulate the growth of new insulin-producing islets in the pancreas, resulting in restoration of normal metabolic function and glucose control.

CureDM is expected to launch the first phase of its clinical trials later this year.

Morehouse milestones

The Morehouse School of Medicine has only been around since 1978, and only has a little more than 1,000 alumni, according to its president, Dr. John Maupin.

But consider the impact of the relatively young and small historically black college.

Two of its former presidents have held leading national roles in health and wellness. Dr. Louis Sullivan, also the school’s founder, served as U.S. secretary of health and human services. Dr. David Satcher, who served as an interim president and currently heads the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at MSM, was U.S. surgeon general and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For such a young medical school, that’s an impressive track record. But its national influence doesn’t stop there.

Regina Benjamin, the 18th U.S. surgeon general who was appointed by President Barrack Obama, was part of Morehouse School of Medicine’s second class and served on its board until her federal appointment.

At its third annual Hugh M. Gloster Society fundraising dinner on April 7, Benjamin was given the MSM’s top award. She sent David Rutstein, the acting deputy surgeon general, to accept the award on her behalf.

“I’m so delighted to be back at Morehouse,” said Rutstein, who also was in MSM’s second class where he first got to know Benjamin. “Just by fate, we were actually study partners.”

Rutstein already was working in the surgeon general’s office when Benjamin was named to the top job. He called her up and said: “Regina, you’re going to be my boss.” Rutstein said they both laughed. And shortly thereafter, she asked him to serve as her deputy.

Amos, Young honored

The Foundation of Wesley Woods outdid itself at this year’s Heroes, Saints & Legends dinner April 8 at the St. Regis Hotel.

It honored three special men: Paul Amos, who co-founded the American Family Life Insurance Co. (Aflac) in 1955 and now is suffering from Parkinson’s disease; former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Dr. Mahlon DeLong, the William Timmie Professor of Neurology at Emory University, who is one of the national leaders in the treatment of Parkinson’s.

The proceeds of the fundraising dinner support care and research programs for adults suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Since its inception in 1990, the event has raised $5 million to help find cures for those two diseases.

The devastating impact of those diseases and the hope for cures really hit home at this year’s dinner.

Two special guests were Yolanda “Lonnie” Ali and Muhammad Ali, the boxing champ known simply as “The Greatest.” Ali was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984.

What is less known is that Ali has been DeLong’s patient since 1994.

“I remember walking in his office,” Lonnie Ali said of her first time meeting DeLong. “[Muhammad Ali] was doing really well then. [DeLong] was going through the different assessments. I told him, ‘He will be your most difficult patient.’ I think Muhammad has lived up to that.”

“I’m so proud to be part of the Emory family,” Mrs. Ali said.

HBS honors Shepherd

The Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta will honor James Shepherd, co-founder and chairman of the Shepherd Center, at is 25th annual Community Leadership Dinner on Wednesday, April 21, at the Bobby Dodd Institute.

The school uses that occasion to award scholarships to local nonprofit leaders to attend executive education programs at the school.

This year’s recipients will be Kweku Forstall, executive director of Year Up Atlanta; Marilyn Midyette, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta; John Sparrow, general manager for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Mary Pat Matheson, executive director of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens; Robert Brawner, program director of the BeltLine Partnership; and Tracy Elliot, executive director of AID Atlanta.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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