Google apparently has diabetes on the mind, as it's currently announcing a string of partnerships with the diabetes device and medication industry.
This week, Google Life Sciences under the new Alphabet parent company has entered into a partnership with Sanofi to bring better tools to the diabetes world. Along for that ride is the Joslin Diabetes Center, which is lending its roster of experts and medical professionals to the mix.
Here's the news release that went out on Monday.
This announcement comes on the heels of news earlier in August that Google Life Sciences partnered with Dexcom to develop next-gen CGM technology, including a new dime-sized flexible sensor in the coming years. And this all comes on top of Google's first foray into diabetes back in early 2014, with the announcement that its then-Google X division is working with the Novartis eye care division Alcon to develop a smart contact lens to monitor glucose levels.
Holy Google diabetes focus!!
This latest pairing with Sanofi and Joslin is huge for our D-Community because it puts Google right on the front lines for involvement in new treatment options as they arise.
All three players say it's too early to talk details publicly -- so no design or even conceptual specifics at this time. We certainly tried, but they are sticking to vague corporate-speak without going into even as much detail as what Dexcom outlined a few weeks earlier about its plans for mini diabetes tech in the next five years.
We reached out to all three partners, and here is what they tell us:
Google Does Diabetes
Note that we were hoping to connect with Google Life Sciences chief Andy Conrad, but were told he isn't talking to media at this point. In the meantime, we received these comments from spokeswoman Jacquelyn Miller:
"The Google side of this news is that we’re announcing diabetes as our first area of focus as a new company. Sanofi is our collaborator in this effort and they’ll be bringing their expertise in diabetes care and medicine. In short, we think we can combine technology and medicine to make it much easier for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar. The dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels are what cause the worst complications from diabetes -- heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, and more -- so giving people a more convenient, effective way to stay in control is a key goal for people working on the global diabetes problem.
"For the past few years as part of Google X, we’ve been incubating a number of tools and technologies related to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. Now as we’re entering a new phase (with Google Life Sciences), we’re moving from being tech-centric to disease-centric, and exploring how these technologies might be applied in combination with existing devices, therapies, and interventions.
"We have years of work ahead of us here, but we’re excited about starting to put the tools and technologies that we’ve been working on to use, and are thrilled to have Sanofi as a partner to help make sure that everything we’re working on is useful for patients and physicians.
"Our approach includes complementary partnerships that work to make existing technology better, to try to invent new technology, and aim to create better access to and understanding of information.
- For example, we’re working with Dexcom to develop a series of next-generation continuous glucose monitoring products that are designed to be smaller and less expensive than existing technologies. The products will be designed to be disposable, and will be intended for use across all diabetes markets. The goal is to empower more people to control their diabetes with real-time and actionable information by developing a low-cost, small, bandage-sized sensor that is connected to the cloud.
- With Alcon, the eyecare division of Novartis, we’re working on a smart contact lens. It’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor (each the size of a piece of glitter) that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.
- We’ve also developed and are starting to test a cardiac and activity sensor that is designed to measure basic biological signals like pulse, activity level, and skin temperature continuously. It can also capture environmental information like light exposure and noise level that can affect or indicate a person’s health -- e.g., a gradual decrease in time spent outdoors could indicate that someone isn’t feeling well or is having difficulty moving around. This could have important implications when combined with information about changes in blood sugar levels over time.
"We think the pieces are coming together here to enable a more coordinated, tech-enabled approach. Given our work with Alcon/Novartis, Dexcom, and internally with advanced sensors, it made sense to find a partner like Sanofi, who has deep expertise in diabetes, to help pull together all the different partners who will eventually make sure these technologies can be useful for patients and physicians.
"It's still very early in this collaboration, so we don't have product specifics to share, but the big idea is that we want to develop better ways to manage diabetes that use technology to understand all the variables that impact the disease. We're aiming to make existing technology better, invent new technology, and create better access to and understanding of information."
On behalf of Sanofi, spokeswoman Susan Brooks responded to some of our questions via email, noting that the company wasn't able to connect us directly with any of its leaders to discuss this in-depth (despite the big news announcement they just made to the world).
DM) Why Google, and how long has this been in the works?
SB) Sanofi has a deep history of creating important new interventions and therapeutics for people with diabetes, so the partnership came together quickly when the Life Sciences team at Google started looking for a partner.
What will be developed as to new technology and treatments?
We’re just starting to work together, so it’s too early to say.
Are there plans to use Google's data analysis capabilities to examine insulin use, how people with diabetes are taking other medications, or how those meds are working?
We’d recommend you reaching out to Google.
What's the timeline on unveiling something specific? (i.e. Google and Dexcom recently announced an initial 2-3 year timeline, followed by a second-gen focus in 4-5 years)
As noted, we’re just starting to work together, so it’s too early to say.
What does this mean for Sanofi's existing diabetes device tech, such as iBGStar?
As part of the collaboration, Sanofi and Google will evaluate all technologies developed between the two partners as well as appropriate third-party technologies to best deliver the capabilities we believe are critical to supporting patient and physician needs. Blood glucose monitoring is an important component to the overall solution. While we have invested resources into iBGStar, we want to integrate next-generation devices that are cheap, small, and easy to use along with those potentially already on the market.
Does this open Sanofi up to any collaboration with Dexcom?
Together we are aiming to making existing technology better, trying to invent new technology, and working towards better access to and understanding of information. The idea here is that lots of people focused on the same problem will be able to create new tools and technologies that work together and work better for patients.
Insulin prices are a huge issue for patients... Do you think this partnership will have any impact on that?
Since the discovery of insulin in 1921, we’ve made significant progress in the diagnosis and treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but clinical outcomes for patients still remain less-than-ideal. Only 50%t of patients are at their target A1c levels, and many patients are also suffering from associated complications such as kidney disease, heart disease, strokes, blindness and amputations. Yet, despite the bleakness of this landscape, there is hope from the positive results of numerous clinical trials showing the effectiveness of behavioral interventions, diagnostic approaches, device-drug combinations, patient communication and self-management tools.
What is needed is a fundamental reshaping of the how this disease is approached both clinically and structurally, particularly the data/communications infrastructure and the means by which products and services are paid. We believe diabetes care can be transformed, and that together, we can create comprehensive and cost-effective outcomes solutions for patients with diabetes, their providers and their payers.
Well, that was... vague. Still, the partnership has huge potential.
Joslin Diabetes Center’s CEO John L Brooks III, whose now-adult son Rob was diagnosed at age 3, says this collaboration has been in the works since the Spring.
“We’ve been working with Andy (Conrad) for a few months, and have had long relationships with Sanofi as well as Novartis. This was a natural coalition of us coming together, and with Alphabet coming of age recently, this is a way to take this new entity to drive this initiative. We’re delighted to be a part of it,” Brooks says.
"Our role is to make sure that tech and those solution sets developed are clinically relative to patients, providers and payers. Far too many tech companies get into this thinking they can just push all the data to patients or providers, and do what they think should be happening but don’t think about what’s important to those using those tools. We have to make sure they’re relevant and impactful, and have the right degree of intelligence for what’s needed in diabetes management."
Joslin has been teamed up with Sanofi for three years now on a different, continuing collaboration; Brooks says that's focused on therapeutics whereas this Google deal is "based on the premise of radical change in diabetes management."
Wow, radical change? "The results of this will be expansive and make a dent in both type 1 and type 2," Brooks says.
“This is not an incremental effort, but a new way of thinking about ideas for patient engagement and our way of thinking on diabetes. It's not some theoretical idea, but something we want to drive quickly. Both Sanofi and Google have the resources to make this happen, and we have a whole cast of experts to be a part of this. Google has a reputation for... being aggressive and seeing how quickly they can move and get through the regulatory processes."
Indeed, the initiative that tech giant Google is taking here in healthcare and diabetes in particular brings a fresh new perspective, instead of what can often be viewed as an "encumbered perspective based on years of thinking about how diabetes tech has been done," Brooks points out.
Naturally we asked if the Joslin Institute for Technology Translation and its D-tools like the HypoMap unveiled with Glooko last year will be impacted by this new partnership between Sanofi and Google, but Brooks tells us (surprise, surprise) it's too early to go into any detail because that's all bound by confidentiality agreements.
He did hint that this is by no means exclusive club and there may be new players getting involved soon. But as of now, the anchor tenants are in place for this three-way partnership to move forward.
Hype or Hope?
These kind of announcements usually get a lot of play in the media, but constitute "vaporware" initially, in the sense that absolutely no details are apparent yet.
Right now, it's all pretty vague and open to speculation about what will ever materialize. Google brings a lot to the table as far as resources and new thinking, which is especially helpful when it comes to Sanofi, that... doesn't have the best track record for results.
For example, remember the big news announcement in June 2014 when Sanofi teamed up with Medtronic for an "exciting collaboration" -- only to have that dissolve within the past 14 months. From what both companies tell us on the record, it was a mutual decision to stop working together.
We do hope something materializes from this new Google-Sanofi-Joslin trifecta sooner rather than later -- and in any case, it's encouraging to see Google stepping up to the plate on diabetes!