Automating the collection and analysis of key data, bringing it all together on to the same platform and providing doctors with Artificial Intelligence technology to help them get more sense out of the data – these are all ways to improve the monitoring of diabetes.

Open Innovation improving diabetes monitoring

Over the past few years, a number of solutions based on connected objects and mobile apps have been invented to help people suffering from diabetes to balance their diet, adjust the doses of insulin they need to inject and prevent the medical complications that often go hand in hand with diabetes. In fact, at a wider level, all kinds of new tech devices, from smart patches to connected glucometers and connected socks, are now appearing that can help diabetics – a group of patients that is growing fast in the United States – take greater control of their medical condition.

However, user experience shows that many of these solutions could still be improved. Most mobile apps on the market today, which are often linked to a connected glucometer, automatically display the user’s blood sugar levels, but they still require him/her to manually call up the information s/he needs on the insulin dose to be injected. Given that certain types of diabetes call for several injections every day, this can represent a real obstacle to the adoption of such technology. Mountain View, California-based companies Glooko, with its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application and accompanying mobile app; and diabetes management company Livongo are two examples.

However, Diabnext, a startup which has operations in the US, Taiwan, India and Hong Kong, and Cambridge Massachusetts-based Common Sensing are now bucking this trend and marketing third-generation connected devices.

Healthcare practitioners, IoT, apps and AI teaming up to make sense of the data

Diabnext, which received a special mention at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2015 and again this year, has developed a mobile app that automatically records the units of insulin injected – plus the date and time of the actual injections – blood glucose levels, and also an estimate of the carbohydrates the patient has ingested, based on the photos s/he takes of the meals s/he has eaten. In addition, Diabnext takes into account data from the connected glucometer, uploading blood glucose level data into the app. Last but not least, the startup has developed a small connected object called the ‘Clipsulin’, which attaches to an insulin pen and automatically collects data on the doses of insulin injected.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Sanofi hosted this concept for a year under an Open Innovation approach, given that the French multinational pharmaceutical giant is a world leader in basal insulin products. The company is already well known for its Lantus insulin pen. And while Sanofi obviously had a strong interest in cooperating with the startup, Diabnext is not slow to recognise either how much it also benefited from the collaboration. “Working closely with Sanofi has given us access to healthcare practitioners and researchers specialising in our number one field – diabetes. Moreover, this collaborative initiative has helped to burnish our credentials in the market, it’s a good endorsement which should open doors to partnerships going forward,‟ underlined Diabnext CEO Laurent Nicolas, with whom L’Atelier BNP Paribas met up at the CES in January.

Among other innovations, Diabnext uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) on its platform. This enables doctors to quickly visualise large amounts of data on their diabetic patients, assess the impact of various factors on their blood glucose levels and make relevant tailored recommendations.

Data enabling better monitoring

James White and Richard Whalley, the founders of Common Sensing, had just graduated from MIT and were talking to medical practitioners and patients suffering from chronic illness. They came to the alarming conclusion that monitoring of chronic illness, and diabetes in particular, was very inexact due to a lack of data. “Most doctors had absolutely no idea whether their diabetic patients had been injecting themselves properly between appointments scheduled three months apart. Moreover, a lot of people are scared of injections. Some patients just can’t do it for themselves,‟  pointed out James White during the Health 2.0 Wintertech 2017 event in San Francisco in early January.

Common Sensing has developed Gocap, a smart cap designed to fit on to an insulin pen so as to record information on the user’s insulin intake in an app and in the Cloud, and then transmit it to a mobile phone or a connected glucose meter. This has a dual aim: firstly, it enables patients to monitor their diet more effectively; and secondly it gives their doctor valuable insight into how they are caring for themselves and being cared for.

Gocap also measures insulin temperature in real time, important information given that insulin is a fragile substance that decomposes with heat. Last October Common Sensing announced it had kicked off an initial clinical study of Gocap in conjunction with the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. The Gocap real-time insulin dose monitoring solution will be tested out on 125 diabetics over a period of a year. Going forward, the two co-founders intend to market their solution to insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms and networks of healthcare professionals, with the basic aim of having it provided to end-users free-of-charge.

The upshot of all these initiatives is that solutions are now being developed that display on a single platform the three essential types of data needed – blood glucose levels, carbohydrate intake and insulin levels – and are thus likely to prove far more effective for users.

On a slightly different note, French startup PKVitality unveiled at CES 2017 a design for a connected bracelet, K’Track, which measures blood glucose levels without the need for a blood sample.

Clearly there are many different areas to be tackled and many ways of improving the overall treatment of diabetes. So while some companies are developing Open Innovation solutions designed to improve the monitoring of people suffering from diabetes, other firms are looking to alleviate the discomfort diabetics have to endure, by developing ways of measuring blood sugar levels without their having to shed a single drop of their blood.

By Pauline Canteneur