Getting to know the people behind the diabetes pharma industry is a benefit we've started seeing more of in the past several years, thanks mostly to company engagement with the Diabetes Online Community.
Putting a face to the names of those behind the scenes making diabetes devices and products helps us all see that these organizations are made up of real, passionate people rather than just some "profit-hungry corporate types" we might imagine.
It's always interesting to meet the players, the "movers and shakers" in the D-Industry shifting around the chessboard.
Most recently, we caught wind of a number of changes happening at Sanofi Diabetes, which has snagged some of the big names in the diabetes world and brought them in-house during the past several months.
Also, word on the street is that Sanofi is concentrating more on the technology and device side of diabetes, instead of just being the insulin-maker it's so long been known as. They began last May, by unveiling the Apple-friendly iBGStar meter that plugs directly into iPhones, and apparently that caught the attention of many in the diabetes industry's inner circles.
Our own Wil Dubois wrote about Sanofi's dabble into the bag-making side recently, and we've noticed their venture into the DOC and their design and innovation challenges mirroring what the 'Mine has been doing for years. But Sanofi apparently set its sights higher, intent on being a leader in many more areas.
In the past several months, Sanofi hired Dr. Henry Anhalt, former medical director for the artificial pancreas program at JnJ/Animas since 2008, as well as longtime CDE and past-AADE president Donna Rice, who consulted on chronic health issues and created the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute in Texas but now heads up the company's CDE Help Team.
Another of these strategic hires is Dr. Andreas Stuhr, who's not only a type 1 himself since childhood, but served as medical director for Roche Diabetes Care for more than seven years before joining Sanofi. Since December, Andreas serves as senior medical director for the U.S. medical affairs division of Sanofi Diabetes.
At the ADA Scientific Sessions recently, Andreas took some time out of his busy schedule to sit and chat for about 30 minutes. Today, I'd like to share his story.
I've known Andreas for a few years now, meeting him for the first time back in 2010 when I attended my first Roche Social Media Summit. Not only is he a brilliant guy working on the medical side of industry, but as a fellow type 1 PWD he has his feet on the ground is great to just hang around and chat with.
He and I also share another connection that has fascinated me: we both are the kids of a parent with type 1, diagnosed at a very young age.
Andreas was diagnosed in Germany at age 3, and a generation earlier his dad had been diagnosed at the same young age back in 1940 just as World War II was starting. His dad is now in his 73rd year (while my mom is in her 55th year of living with diabetes), so he has more than earned the "veteran" designation for getting to this point.
"Talk about a fear of not been able to get a life-saving drug due to the 'environment' you live in," Andreas said. "Add to that the general fear you would expect to see in a conflict zone where there is always the potential of death, and now it has just doubled... Wow. It's very strange thinking about this."
Andreas' life has been rooted in wanting to make the most possible difference for PWDs, he says -- from his becoming a doctor and practicing in pediatrics in Germany to his eventual transition to the D-industry where he's now been for about a decade.
"My journey has been all about making an impact on diabetes, that's why I went into medicine," he says.
Andreas says his own diabetes was the catalyst to becoming a doctor, but also because he spent a lot of time in the hospital -- five to six weeks at a time when he was young -- he was also exposed to that world, and enjoyed the scientific elements of it. He decided to pursue a career in pediatrics because he observed how diabetes changes so much between ages and how children must adapt over time. He liked the challenge of that, Andreas says.
But eventually, he saw a chance to make an even bigger difference by going into the industry side. That took him back to school for his MBA degree, so that he could both "speak the medical language" and understand the business side.
Starting out, Andreas worked for Eli Lilly and then BD, before joining Roche Diagnostics in 2005.
He loved working on the diabetes device and supply side, but still cherished the experience he had on the medicine side before that. Then he found a chance to combine those two pursuits, with Sanofi. That job took him from Indianapolis to New Jersey, where Sanofi U.S. is headquartered, to take on the role of one of six chief medical directors that report to Bob Cuddihy, the VP of diabetes for Sanofi's U.S. medical affairs.
"I like to combine those things because I know that with just one or the other, you're not likely to win the fight against diabetes," he said. "Really, diabetes is a sneaky disease and we need all the tools we can get."
Andreas said historically, he wasn't impressed with Sanofi and saw it as a "medicine-only" company that wasn't doing anything novel. He also felt the company was too focused on only type 2, and wasn't looking at the entire picture of battling the disease, but rather honed in on taming specific blood sugars with a particular treatment. The company did introduce an app a couple of years ago, GoMeals, that was partnered up with CalorieKing, but that didn't really catch on.
That changed with the launch of the iBGStar last year, Andreas said. Many eyes were focused on the company and how it appeared to be stepping into the device and tech side to become more of an innovator. The iBGStar was the first real step into that arena, Andreas says.
"That caught my attention and made me more aware of what Sanofi was doing differently," he said. "I started seeing Sanofi as a leader... and who doesn't want to be a part of a winning team?"
Of course, Sanofi's big product for the diabetes world is the long-acting insulin Lantus. And they are working on new insulin varities, such as the concentrated U-300 that's yet to be officially named. One priority Andreas says he's interested in seeing more of is making diabetes management more positive, so that it's not as much a "treat to fail" mentality so often relayed to PWDs. On the tech and D-device side, Andreas says he expects the company to become a player on more insulin-delivery methods... I pressed, but he wouldn't say any more and just left it at a sense of "stay tuned."
Still, as much as Andreas loves the tech and device side, he says he's not going to base his life on it.
"You have to let (your tools) work for you," he said, mentioning his dad, who uses a vial and syringe for his injections and doesn't have any interest in insulin pumps or CGMs. His dad's in his 73rd year of living with type 1 now, an irony as we got to chat at the 73rd ADA Scientific Sessions -- and Andreas said he planned to send his name badge to his dad overseas as a momento.
"At the end of the day, it's about people with diabetes and it goes beyond the molecule," he said. "I want to bring a sense of what it's like to live with diabetes, to change how diabetes is seen. A lot has changed through the years and it still is, and it's exciting to be a part of this all as change is happening."
We too are excited to see what Sanofi has up its sleeve next, and will be watching to see how these many new faces with so many years of D-experience -- like Andreas -- will shape what the company has in store for us PWDs!