Seven months after Roche Diabetes Care announced it would stop selling its Accu-Chek brand insulin pumps in the U.S., the company is now handing off its remaining pump customers to Medtronic Diabetes.
Starting in September, any existing Roche pump customers who wish to continue using their Accu-Chek Spirit or Combo systems will start automatically receiving their supplies directly from Medtronic, unless they opt out of that service by the end of August.
We're told this Acc-Chek support contract runs through Feb. 2021, which is the clearest sign yet that Roche Diabetes Care has no interest in bringing its insulin pump products back to the American market after it stopped selling them here at the start of 2017.
A letter dated Aug. 3 that went out to Roche pump customers explains that these PWDs (people with diabetes) "have the right to the product of your choice" and includes a 1-800 number and email address for customers to opt out by Aug. 30 if they wish.
Roche and Medtronic both tell us this is simply a way to ensure continued support for Accu-Chek pump customers until their products go off warranty; spokespeople for both companies declined to say how many people are impacted.
What does this mean? To be clear, this does not mean that former Roche customers are being forced to switch to Medtronic pumps. They will simply be receiving Accu-Chek supplies from Medtronic if they don't opt out, meaning they will become part of that company's database of customers. Those who opt out are welcome to find a different third-party supplier to get their needed pump supplies (for example, Total Diabetes Supply online).
Is the idea to 'onboard' these customers to Medtronic pumps over time? Not officially, we're told. Medtronic tells us they won't be offering any special upgrades or trade-in offers to Accu-Chek pumpers, aside from what they already offer to new customers. But the reality is that PWDs who remain on Accu-Chek pumps will likely be pushed by sales reps to switch to Medtronic devices eventually.
Is this a big market upset? Not really. It's neither surprising nor unexpected that a company would phase out support of a product they no longer sell. It's simply good business by Roche to hand off these customers to a leading insulin pump company, whether we patients like it or not.
But this move does confirm that Roche has no plans to re-enter the U.S. pump market -- something they were waffling about when they made their initial January announcement.
It's just more proof that the diabetes device market is highly volatile, and that it's hard to make it as an insulin pump vendor in particular. The writing's been on the wall for years -- after the Deltec Cozmo and Asante Snap couldn't survive -- and with the recent financial struggles of Tandem Diabetes Care, and JnJ Diabetes now evaluating the future of its Animas/OneTouch pumps.
Medtronic has always been the elephant in the room, dominating more and more with "preferred" insurance contracts and its large army of sales reps who flood doctors' offices in ways other pump companies just can't. Now, this customer hand-off from Roche just gives MedT more muscle.
Roche hasn't fared well, in that many still comment "Roche makes a pump?!" and it certainly hasn't brought any new innovative pump models to market in many years now; it's almost become a joke to wonder when the company might ever launch the Solo patch pump it acquired from Medingo in 2010, or if America might ever see the Accu-Chek Insight pump that's sold in Europe here in the U.S.
This latest move by Roche is surely a strategic step to cut its losses and focus on more lucrative opportunities:
- Next-Gen Meter Collaboration: In February 2017, Roche and Medtronic signed an agreement to develop a next-gen BG meter that will weave Accu-Chek glucose monitoring technology into a future Medtronic pump system.
- D-Data Sharing: Roche acquired the mySugr app startup and its one million users in early July, with plans to use that as a base to develop an entire new digital platform for diabetes data. (The two companies had already partnered using the Accu-Chek meter and strips). And in late July, Roche signed a collaboration agreement with Accenture to develop that platform connecting PWDs, healthcare providers and others.
- Closed Loop Smarts: Roche was once partnered with Dexcom on closed loop development, but that agreement fizzled and Roche began doing internal R&D on creating its own CGM, which was shown off as recently as last year... Now, there's clearly another shift as Roche recently announced it has teamed up with closed loop startup TypeZero Technologies and Senseonics, which make a 90-day implantable CGM that is currently before the FDA. The three will work on a closed loop system using the Accu-Chek Insight pump available overseas.
- Patch pump? Who knows, really? The company still has the Solo patch pump in its portfolio, though we're not convinced we will ever see it come to market. TBD on that.
Yep, anyone who thought Roche was jockeying to leave the diabetes device market altogether was wrong. The opposite is true: though Roche clearly has had a number of missteps over the years, it's shaping up to be an interesting run by Roche as we move into next-gen technology with automation. The possibilities are intriguing.
With an eye to the future, Roche may finally be pinpointing what the diabetes market needs and evolving correctly with the times. Yet only time will tell, of course.