I know, I know, I had the same reaction: What the heck?! Just on the heels of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)'s big artificial pancreas announcement last week that brings the non-profit into a commercial partnership with J&J, yesterday they released news of a new commercial partnership with Becton Dickinson (BD). The goal of this collaboration is to improve insulin pump therapy.
I found the press release a bit confusing. The wording seemed to hint that the two organizations would be developing their own patch pump design. Wrong! They're actually working on new ways to improve insulin infusion, aka how easily and how fast the insulin gets into your body.
Again I got in touch with Aaron Kowalski, Research Director at JDRF (who still owes us answers to all those AP questions - coming soon, promised!) and I was able to uncover the backstory on the BD partnership.
The aim of this collaboration is twofold, Kowalski tells me:
Stage I: Addressing the Problems with Today's Insulin Pumps
Problems with today's infusion sets, that is. JDRF believes that BD's expertise
in the world of ultra-fine needles and tubing can help do away with some of the worst inconveniences currently associated with using an insulin pump -
- tube kinking
- soreness at infusion sites
- occlusions (insulin blockages)
- and site infections
"The pump companies haven't addressed this head on, and we think we can make a big difference here," Kowalski says.
Stage 2: Transforming Pumping to Use "Micro-Infusion"
Despite their disappointing performance in the world of glucose monitors (BD discontinued its glucometer line a few years ago), the company is a market leader and "doing some very exciting work" in the world of microneedles, Kowalski says.
The goal is to eventually do away with today's cannulas, which penetrate the skin about 8-10mm deep. In contrast, the microinjection system that BD is developing penetrates just 1mm, "under the outermost epidermal skin layer."
This is not only more comfortable but also allows extremely rapid uptake of insulin, because drugs delivered at this layer get into the blood stream faster. And we all know that with insulin delivery, faster is the name of the game!
"This really rapid, direct delivery is exciting for our development of a closed-loop system, and it could make pumping theoretically truly pain-free because the needles are so tiny you can barely feel them," Kowalski explains.
And What About the Money?
JDRF has announced that it will invest $4.3 million in support for the resulting BD projects over the next few years. I can just hear many of you gasping... Why is this advocacy organization that has pledged to find a cure putting up huge sums of money for commercial ventures? Very fair question. Without sounding at all defensive, Kowalski explained it to me this way:
"JDRF, NIH, ADA... all these organizations are working toward the goal of improving life with illnesses, and we can't develop and deliver and market these products on our own. We need companies to do that."
"If this product or any other resulting from a partnership like this is profitable, the JDRF gets a return on that money and that goes back into our next bit of research."
"Let's face it, these companies are out there building things, and being businesses, they have to look at short-term goals, market size, etc. This is where Type 1 diabetics usually lose, because the market simply isn't big enough for companies to have an incentive to build solutions for them."
"Our goal is to de-risk these projects for the companies, to drive faster development and push for things that patients really want..."
"This is a model used by multiple non-profits nowadays, including the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation."
"A cure is still our ultimate goal, and we're still spending 80% of our research budget on pursuing that. But you have to appreciate that a walkaway cure is not around the corner... We probably overpromised on that in the past. We believed too many overenthusiastic scientists."
"Now we are also putting some of our odds on what we can do now to improve life with diabetes. Can we prevent highs? Yes. Can we prevent some of the lows? Yes, I think so..."
"If we can get some of these companies aligned with what patients want, and get them to do it faster, then I think we've really accomplished something."
— Aaron Kowalski, JDRF