Meet yet another new player in the all-in-one diabetes solution game: AkibaH, a San Jose, CA-based startup that aims to offer a glucose meter, test strips and lancets all built into your smartphone case, so you have everything at your fingertips yet less to schlep around.
Great concept, right? It’s almost like they took a page from the playbook of our 2009 DiabetesMine Design Challenge winner LifeCase/LifeApp, which was pretty much the same idea.
AkibaH is also creating an app and portal where the glucose data will be beamed, so doctors can access it in collaboration with their patients. Also sounds familiar, yes?
They have named it, GluCase.
This intro video on their website gives a quick look at what the startup is developing, and the team’s personal connections to diabetes (many family and friends living with both type 1 and type 2, and some even lost to diabetes.)
They’ve built a prototype and filed with the FDA earlier this year, and are now hoping to get regulatory approval for a launch sometime in 2016.
They’ve also drummed up a fair amount of excitement by nabbing a spot as one of the recently named Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator TechStars, receiving promotion and $120,000 in funding.
All-in-One, At Last?
Here’s how AkibaH says its product works:
- Case: The smartphone case looks pretty much like many phone cases out there. They’ll start with the iPhone and most popular Android models, and expand from there to other phones. The basic design will be the same for all, just tweaked as needed for size and shape.
- Strips: AkibaH will be manufacturing cartridges that can hold up to 50 strips (exact number TBD) that will be inserted in the upper right side of the case. The strips WON’T be proprietary, but rather already-existing FDA cleared strips that will either be pre-filled in the cartridges or will need to be inserted by customers themselves. The company is still negotiating with strip makers to determine which brand strips will be included, and we have to wonder whether strip companies would be OK with giving away their strips for Akibah to make money off of.
- Lancets: Similarly, lancets (brand TBD) will be assembled into a cartridge to be purchased separately and inserted. Users will simply place their finger on the opening and push a button to make a lancet pop out for testing purposes.
- Testing: You just push the button on the upper right of the case for a test strip to pop out, and the button below for the lancet to appear. Then you simply poke your finger and test as usual. Once the test is complete, you discard both and the little doors close.
- Connectivity: Bluetooth Low Energy is embedded
into the case to communicate solely with the designated smartphone. This will
allow BG results to be directly sent to a smartphone app, available in the
respective Apple or Google Play stores. If you aren’t connected to the
phone or don’t have Bluetooth access at the time you test, those BG
results would be stored and sent to your app and cloud at a later time.
The idea of an all-inclusive BG (blood glucose) system isn’t new, of course. In fact it’s a long-sought-after dream that’s yet to be realized – by Pogo, Dario and others – none of whom have managed to get past FDA.
So understandably, we’re skeptical about how realistic plans for this AkibaH smartphone meter are. And AkibaH does sound a bit naïve in how it views FDA approval as a near-future certainty, describing their concept as “highly predicated” to other existing meters. Not so, because while the BG testing process may not be much different, the medical-device-in-a-smartphone design is still a novel concept that is likely giving the FDA pause.
Also, there are no immediate plans for integration with other diabetes devices or mobile apps, we’re told. The company says it is “developing partnerships” to enable that in the future, but currently the only plan is to allow for its own system of cloud-enabled data exporting and sharing your BG data with the physician and other select people.
What’s in a Name
In case you’re wondering about the unusual name, it’s a play off the Swahili proverb “Akiba Haiozi” that means “a person with foresight will always know prosperity.” Basically, the company founders believe they can arm people with the foresight to know how their everyday decisions impact their health.
WARNING to our Internet Searching Friends: Don’t Google “akibah diabetes,” unless you want to see some very scary graphic photos of feet that look complication-ridden. This is because the word “akibat” in Indonesian means “result,” so you’re essentially searching for “diabetes result" or “outcome.” I made that mistake myself, and it was very unsettling. Ewww…
Still, AkibaH is excited about its concept, that it's marketing as a "first of its kind in the world."
“It’s a pain in the ass,” says AkibaH’s marketing and outreach director Molly Liebeskind, about diabetes overall. She’s grown up alongside a close friend who’s had T1D since he was a kid, so she’s excited to be part of what AkibaH is developing. “I am a girl who wants to leave home without having to carry more, and so this idea of having all this built into your smartphone case makes perfect sense.”
"This stands out as the most convenient system for people with diabetes, to live their life untethered. Most people carry their phone everywhere, so they already have what they need with them," she adds.
While we agree it’s convenient, we wonder if they’re overstating their case (pun!) by using the tagline “Live life untethered.” This too will sound familiar to anyone who follows diabetes device innovation, especially in insulin pumping – where new offerings can truly help PWDs (people with diabetes) “cut the cord” in a tangible way.
Aside from untethered, Liebeskind points out that AkibaH may be a boon to people who are hesitant to check their blood sugars in public, and/or teenagers who might want to be more discreet using their phone instead of a separate medical device that may make them feel “different.”
Questions on Cost and Rollout
AkibaH plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign in November on Indiegogo to raise money for development and eventual manufacturing and launch. They've also been pretty active on Twitter (at @TeamAkibaH) and their blog with some guest posts from some friends in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC).
Meanwhile, their business model remains rather unclear.
Liebeskind tells they plan to provide the smartphone case free to patients, so all we’ll have to buy is the strips and lancets through a subscription service. They say doctors will also get the AkibaH data platform for free, without even any subscription use feels.
As to how AkibaH plans to make money, Liebeskind says this will be a monthly subscription where patients won't have to go refill supplies themself. Still, we're skeptical because this relies on the assumption that strip manufacturers will be OK with AkibaH selling its strips for profit, and not recouping that money themselves after all the production and regulatory work. Hmmm.
We certainly give AkibaH points for enthusiasm; we're just not holding our breath for this coming to market any time soon.