For patients suffering from diabetes, managing the disease is a complicated undertaking. Keeping an ever watchful eye on blood glucose levels, carefully considering how every meal or physical activity will impact blood sugar, and knowing how much insulin to take, and when to take it, can be an overwhelming burden. Although insulin treatments and technologies like Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems are available to ease that burden, diabetes treatment has failed to innovate quickly enough to take full advantage of technologies that could transform care. The result is a broken system that fails to meet many patients’ needs for affordable insulin or for more sophisticated approaches to diabetes management.
Now, some technologically savvy patients are taking matters into their own hands. In a fascinating piece published in the New York Times this week, writer Peter Andrey Smith paints a picture of a DIY revolution in diabetes care, as diabetes patients overcome hurdles to getting the treatment they need with their own homespun solutions.
Smith looks at how user-driven innovation is changing the market in diabetes care from the bottom up, and how it might encourage healthcare technologies, drug manufactures, and regulators to quickly catch up. Parents of children with Type 1 diabetes are using homemade computer programs to remotely monitor their children’s glucose levels; some creative patients are hacking their way towards a bionic pancreas; while patient-led groups of biotech hackers are developing generic forms of insulin by reverse engineering expired insulin patents as part of the Open Insulin Project in an effort to bring down the astronomical insulin prices in the U.S.
On that topic, A recent New York Times opinion piece points out that insulin prices in the U.S. are six times higher than in most of Europe. With only 3 manufacturers dominating the insulin market, and no competition from generic manufacturers, prices have risen at alarming rates in the past five years. For example, the price of Humulin R U-500 has skyrocketed by 325 percent between 2010 and 2015.
Those rising costs coupled with the rapidly growing diabetes population creates a market scenario in serious need of transformation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 29 million adults are living with diabetes in the U.S. That number is expected to more than double, along with costs related to diabetes treatment, over the next 25 years, according to a report by the American Diabetes Association.
While there are plenty of companies working to address these issues with new technologies and new treatments, too often diabetes patients are presented with one-size-fits-all solutions. The DIY revolution in diabetes care is a clear indication that the industry’s current approach isn’t sufficiently personalized or patient-centered.
Diabetes management and treatment can vary greatly from person to person, and it’s clear some patients are being left behind. Here at Aspire, our Tempo Health team is focused on personalization as we develop technologies that can adapt to each individual. Not only does our Soft CGM system have the potential to dramatically broaden access to continuous glucose monitoring with a more affordable, less intrusive solution; the adaptive algorithms our Soft CGM uses will tailor the algorithm to each individual to deliver more accurate, personalized glucose predictions.
Moreover, if the efforts of the Open Insulin project or other patient-led innovations truly lead to more options in the marketplace, and generic drug manufacturers step up to mass produce cheaper insulin treatments, the result will be more variation in insulin treatment plans, and more variation in the duration of short-acting insulin. That means personalization in diabetes management solutions will be more important than ever.
Change is coming to diabetes care. And more likely than not, the DIY movement to innovate diabetes treatment and management are just the birth pangs of a much bigger transformation to come.