We hear all the hype when new diabetes research is announced: Hey, we're so excited and think it could be the greatest next big thing...
That kind of news came down at the end of July, when Becton Dickinson & Co. (BD) decided to pull the plug on development of new continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology. The revelation came during BD's earnings call for the second quarter of 2014, on July 31. Execs on that call didn't elaborate on why, but noted that it would route the dollars and resources from that CGM tech into other parts of the company's diabetes division.
It's good the money won't go to waste, but this is especially disappointing, given that those who've seen the BD tech say it's "pretty sleek and cool-looking," and unlike anything we've seen in CGM tech before. A scientific study abstract presented at the 2013 ADA Scientific Sessions described it as "a novel type of CGM that uses optical sensing of a glucose-specific protein... an optical sensor uses a tiny optical fiber that is inserted under the skin (to) measure blood glucose levels by detecting the change in intensity of the fluorescent dye in the sensor system worn by study participants." That study, co-funded by The Helmsley Charitable Trust, showed that this type of sensor "was consistently accurate and has the potential to be used in overnight closed-loop and low-glucose suspension systems."
And now it's been abandoned. Ugh.
Not surprisingly, BD declined to offer details on why it had made the decision -- likely economic reasons coupled with newer research findings showing this CGM tech just might not be possible. We asked for more insight, but a company spokeswoman declined to comment beyond this vague statement provided by Donald Black, VP of Advanced Diabetes Care for BD Medical-Diabetes Care:
"After evaluating BD's progress in developing a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device for people with diabetes, we are suspending full-scale development efforts.
Our investment in Diabetes Care innovation and R&D is not declining. BD's strategy of improving health outcomes for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is not changing. Our commitment to innovation in the diabetes space remains strong and we are excited at the prospect of other development projects we have underway.
This does not alter our relationship with the JDRF. We remain engaged with the JDRF on other product development collaborations and support and applaud the organization's mission of creating a world without Type 1 diabetes. We also continue to be highly engaged with the Helmsley Charitable Trust and continue to explore areas of future collaboration."
We know from past coverage a little about this now-defunct CGM tech the company was working on (separate from its JDRF-backed research on a single-site insulin infusion and CGM sensor device). BD had abandoned traditional glucose monitoring back in 2007, but two years ago the company seemed to be getting back into the next-gen CGM game via its JDRF partnership on new CGM tech.
On the recent earnings call, BD's Chief Operating Officer Bill Kozy said the two R&D programs that remain a priority for BD Diabetes Care are its insulin delivery device (mystery new infusion set or patch pump?), which it expects to make significant progress on during the next 24-36 months; and "type 2-focused insulin delivery options" that are too early in the R&D process to discuss.
"JDRF and the Helmsley Charitable Trust fund a broad range of innovative research initiatives, both jointly and individually. As with all scientific research, some efforts yield successful results while others do not. We actively and thoughtfully evaluate the performance of all of our grants as they progress. And we work closely with our partners to adjust and, if necessary, suspend projects to ensure that our funding resources are allocated to the most promising avenues of research.
The BD (Becton, Dickinson and Co.) continuous glucose monitor (CGM) project was terminated when it became clear that it would not overcome a key technical hurdle, and it is important to note that discontinuation of the project was solely based on research outcomes. JDRF, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, and BD all remain committed to advancing T1D therapies, and we will continue to look for opportunities to strategically partner on research and development. The unused investment dollars provided by JDRF and Helmsley Charitable Trust for the BD CGM project will be reallocated to other promising T1D research."
A key technical hurdle? Well, what then?!
Nobody is elaborating. JDRF returned no comment, and at Helmsley, Senior Program Officer Marc Anderson (who's been the media contact on past JDRF-Helmsley CGM news) said only that when these kind of research turns happen, everyone learns from them.
"We always have to assess and pick projects that people want, need and will use, but despite our best analysis and planning the research doesn't always materialize as we hope. Not every project will be successful."
While actual investment figures aren't shared per agreements and the specific research findings may not be publicly available, Anderson said they are able to utilize some research results from this project for the future.
Honestly, it's not surprising that BD is tight-lipped; that's the corporate way. But for the JDRF, it's a sad reality that they aren't willing to talk to us on the patient side in real, honest terms rather than just vague press release jargon. Especially frustrating is that the JDRF's brand new leader just talked up its JDRF Helmsley Sensor Initiative during a recent Q&A with us here at the 'Mine. Seriously, you'd think JDRF would be focusing right now on trying to reassure both donors and the D-Community that it has its... stuff... together.
We patients would surely be less bitterly disappointed if we could at least know the real reasons that lead to these exciting R&D projects being scrapped. Open questions abound:
- What did the medical community actually learn from this research?
- What worked and didn't work?
- Will the findings be shared so that others can learn from BD's experience here?
- And ultimately, is this line of research on fiber optic CGM tech worth pursuing at all?
- Will this influence how organizations like JDRF and Helmsley fund research going forward?
- How much did each non-profit actually put into this research?
- Will a failure like this influence other companies to sidestep investing in these ventures anymore, especially during these times of tightening R&D budgets?
Those who know best just won't say, and that's unfortunate for those of us on the receiving end of the headlines praising research at the beginning. If we don't hear what comes from this, how do we know whether it's worth investing in at all?
We certainly appreciate all that JDRF and Helmsley do in exploring new research possibilities. But it would really be nice if they could be more transparent about sharing details when the "big announcements" just don't pan out -- especially given that we patients (and benefactors big and small) are constantly being asked for donations in the name of diabetes research.