Something to think about
This morning the Wall Street Journal contained a well written article on the quest to develop a self-driving car. Which reminded us of the quest to develop an artificial pancreas. While many consider this the ultimate way cool whiz bang piece of diabetes technology most fail to grasp the difficulty of this quest. Quite frankly the folks at Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) deserve a medal for getting the 670G to market. Listen this may not be a true artificial pancreas but it is a major advancement in insulin pump technology so kudos to the folks at Medtronic for, excuse the expression, sticking with it.
Still the article also reminded us of the pitfalls of this technology. As we state frequently an artificial pancreas, like a self-driving car, is a machine and as we state just as frequently machines fail or malfunction. Something that can also happen with a self-driving car which could endanger the life of the passenger in the self-driving car. The same is true with the artificial pancreas which delivers not just a life-sustaining drug but also a lethal drug when delivered incorrectly.
These two pieces of technology also share another commonality, cost. One of our arguments with the artificial pancreas is just how many patients could afford this technology. There is no question a true artificial pancreas would have a positive impact on a small percentage of patients with diabetes. However, this benefit must be balanced against the fact that most patients either could not afford this technology or just don’t want it.
The fallacy of this technology is that it would have a substantial, positive impact for ALL patients with diabetes. This just isn’t true. We hate to point out the obvious but even with the many benefits of insulin pump therapy only 30% or so of Type 1’s uses a pump and less than 5% of insulin using Type 2’s. Now there are many reasons for this, several of which we have outlined before. The fact is for many patients they just don’t want to be hooked up to a machine no matter what.
Now does this mean that companies should not pursue this quest? That would be ludicrous. Although the JDRF has done a very poor job of making this known, this quest has lead to improvements in diabetes technology that will benefit all patients. The most obvious is the improvement in continuous glucose sensors, a tool that has the potential to improve outcomes for all patients with diabetes.
Yet we struggle with the value of this quest. On the one hand, we see the benefits. However, on the other we keep asking would the time and money spent on this quest been better spent on making insulin pumps more patient friendly. Yes, pumps have become easier to use over the years but they are still have not reached the plug and play stage which is where they should be.
Besides Medtronic, every other insulin pump company is spending time and money on this quest. Although this will never happen would it not be better for these companies to share what they have learned and work together on this quest. Would that not only speed up the process but also be more cost effective. Like I said this will never happen given this is also a business and everyone seems to think they can build a better mouse trap. The reality is in the end this technology will commoditize like every other diabetes technology has.
One last thing before we go the WSJ article contains the following passage;
“In an email, Mr. Musk said he was unhappy with previous Journal articles on the company. “While it is possible that this article could be an exception, that is extremely unlikely, which is why I declined to comment,” he wrote.”
It seems that many in our wacky world have this same view of Diabetic Investor. Yep they just love it when we write something “positive” but heaven forbid we write anything that would be considered “negative”. To this we say if you want a friend get a dog. Folks it’s about time everyone grows up and realize this is not personal this is about patients with diabetes. Perhaps if these people spent more time worrying about patients and not what we write we’d all be better off.