The more things change, the more they stay the same

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Since this was the first time in years that Diabetic Investor could not attend the J P Morgan Healthcare conference we’ve been listening to some of the presentations made during this event. Although the real action at J P Morgan takes place in the crowded hallways and bars around the conference the presentations do provide a glimpse of where companies have been and where they plan on going.

One company that likely drew a good crowd was Abbott (NYSE:ABT) as this was their first public presentation since the company officially split into two parts. Although the corporate structure may have changed, when it comes to their diabetes franchise things pretty much remain the same, in that, this franchise is going nowhere in a hurry.

The noted that when it comes to diabetes their future rests on two products, their new FreeStyle® InsuLinx  glucose monitor and advanced glucose sensing technology, which according to the company will be available in Europe in “a couple of years.” It was this last statement that made Diabetic Investor recall the trouble the company had when the Navigator, their continuous glucose monitoring system, was before the FDA.  For anyone who’s new to the wacky world of diabetes device, the Navigator debacle is the poster child for how a company can truly screw up what was a very good thing and ultimately turn gold into sand. (See the Diabetic Investor archives as this was a subject we covered with vigor.)

So here we are many moons removed from the Navigator disaster and Abbott seems to be under the impression they can raise the Navigator from the grave and become a player in the growing CGM market. Frankly Diabetic Investor believes there is a better chance of raising the Titanic then of Abbott becoming a player in CGM.

Even more laughable is their belief that the FreeStyle InsuLinx will become popular among insulin using patients. As we have noted previously Diabetic Investor has been testing some of the newer glucose monitors to hit the market and the InsuLinx was part of this group which also included the OneTouch® VerioIQ and the Accu-Chek Nano. Now this was not a rigorous test by any means just normal everyday use, just like any other insulin using patient. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the InsuLinx, it just didn’t stake up well against the competition.

Now there will be some who will think this is crazy but the InsuLinx comes off as cheap when compared to either the Verio or the Nano. Both the Verio and Nano have very clear and easy to read screens, the Verio color screen is way cool, while the backlight screen for the Nano is also great, the monochrome screen of the InsuLinx made Diabetic Investor harken back to the days when computers did not come with color monitors and everything looked green.  Also both the Verio and Nano feel substantial when held while the InsuLinx feels like it’s about to fall apart.

By now we’re pretty sure there are many who are saying that Diabetic Investor has gone off the deep end and total lost it but the funny thing is these things do matter to patients in the real world. Unlike Abbott who likely tested the InsuLinx withy focus groups in a controlled setting, Diabetic Investor prefers to talk with real live patients who must monitor their glucose levels several times a day. We are constantly amazed at how the littlest thing like a color screen or how the meter feels makes a huge difference with these patients. Keep in mind that the majority of patients believe the technology resides in the meter and not in the test strip, while test strips matter, meters matter more to the patient. Yes we have made fun of meters coming in pretty colors but the truth is, as meters have become more of consumer device and less of a medical device the color of the meter does matter; especially when the majority of patients see all meters as doing basically the same thing.

Anyone who doubts this should listen the next time a cell phone rings as we now live in a world with custom ring tones, Facebook and Twitter. Patients with diabetes may have a chronic disease but this doesn’t mean they are immune to trends and one of the biggest trends going these days is customizing the gadgets everyone is using to fit the personality of the user.  This is one reason the t:slim insulin pump from Tandem Diabetes is generating so much buzz in the insulin pump world. What’s generating the buzz has nothing to do with how the pump operates rather it’s iPhone like design and very patient friendly user interface. Put side by side with the systems offered by insulin pump market leader Medtronic (NYSE:MDT), which basically look like a pager, the t:slim sends the message that this is state of the art technology.

Frankly this has been Abbott’s problem since they bought Therasense, in that, they never understood or bothered to listen to what patients really wanted in the devices they use that help them manage their diabetes.  Something Diabetic Investor predicted when the company bought Therasense many years ago as we knew the entrepreneurial spirit that Therasense had would be crushed by Abbott’s button down conservative culture.  Now that Therasense is just a distant memory, Abbott is doing what they always do, which unfortunately nothing special. The more things change, the more they stay the same.