Things are changing fast in the diabetes device industry, and now it looks like maybe just a matter of time before another insulin pump company bites the dust -- or is gobbled up by a larger parent organization.
Johnson & Johnson is doing an internal corporate evaluation of what the future holds for its entire diabetes device segment, which includes the Animas/ LifeScan/ OneTouch brands that are a staple in the D-Community. The Pharma giant is exploring everything from selling these divisions off, to shutting them down completely, to creating "operating partnerships" or strategic alliances to keep them afloat.
With JnJ's Animas being one of just three remaining traditional insulin pumps available here in the United States -- besides Medtronic and Tandem, for now -- we're all on the edge of our seats watching for a potentially massive shakeup in the diabetes device market. (Remember that just last week, we reported that Roche is pulling out of the insulin pump market.)
WAIT, so what does this mean for us patients?!
We're all a bit unsure, and that's by design... because the company's being deliberately vague.
"Johnson & Johnson is in the very beginning of this process of looking at a wide range of strategic options, and a definitive timeline has not been set to complete this review," says Bridget Kimmel, senior communications manager for JnJ's Diabetes Care Companies. "In addition, this process may not result in any transaction or other strategic alternative so we won’t speculate on any potential outcome."
Well, we can't help but speculate on pontential scenarios:
Could someone buy Animas? Besides competing Pharma companies, we're thinking maybe Google, which is quite interested in diabetes data and tech these days... yep, that's certainly a possibility. Other consumer tech giants dabbling in diabetes include Panasonic, Phillips, Qualcomm, Samsung and Intel -- all possible contenders.
Could the Animas/OneTouch insulin pump completely vanish from the market? Yes, it could, if JnJ decides it's not worth continuing and no one offers to buy it. If that were to happen, it would mean only three pump options exist in the US for the first time since Animas came on the market in 2000! The four current choices are traditional pumps Medtronic Minimed, Animas/OneTouch Vibe, and Tandem Diabetes touchscreen t:slim, plus the Insulet OmniPod as the sole tubeless patch pump.
What about JnJ meters and strips? This review apparently applies to all diabetes devices at JnJ, including the LifeScan line and OneTouch brands for meters and strips, as well as the yet-to-be approved OneTouch Via bolus-only patch pump it had purchased from Calibra Medical years ago. So there's a lot on the line beyond just pumps.
Of course, there's also the chance nothing could change... if JnJ figures out it can keep up its diabetes device pipeline while also improving its bottom line. Hey, anything's possible!
Business hasn't been good for the diabetes device market and Animas specifically for awhile, and it continues wrangling (along with everyone else) with the market leader Medtronic. Anyone listening to earnings calls or studying the investor news knows this isn't a surprise, but from the patient side, since it's difficult to swallow the fact that diabetes is a business, it's just... nerve-wracking.
JnJ Explains (Sort Of)
Basically what they've said is that nothing is certain, and as with all similar business moves, the corporate folk are under gag order (aka "quiet mode") while these changes are being evaluated.
In the Jan. 23 earnings call, JnJ CEO Alex Gorsky said that even if a particular product division is strong, it might be "better in someone else's portfolio" and that's what this internal review will explore. He said it's always difficult to go through these evaluations, almost like making the tough decisions about your children as a parent.
"You love them all, but from time to time you're trying to make the best decisions for them," he said. "To be clear: we are still very interested in diabetes. (Just) at this point in time, it's important to look hard at these businesses and make the right decisions for the future."
We asked JnJ for some specifics about what the D-Community can expect as this whole evaluation period unfolds, and this is what we're told:
- Yes, people will still be able to get started on new Animas/OneTouch pumps during this evaluation period, however long it lasts
- No, nothing changes immediately for existing or new customers
- The OneTouch Vibe Plus launch timing is "is still being evaluated."
- The new Via bolus-only patch pump (originally planned for late 2016) was re-submitted for FDA approval on Nov. 30, 2016, with an updated manufacturing process and anticipated launch in the first half of 2017
Of course we asked whether these business changes could result in killing the launch of either of these new products...?
All we got for an answer was: "We cannot speculate on timing or potential outcome."
And let's not forget about the Animas closed loop technology -- the Hypo-Hyber Minimizer (HHM) -- in development, which could be impacted by all of this.
Not surprisingly, many are worried.
Doctors and educators are concerned about what this means for their patients and what they should tell potential newbies regarding device choices; sales reps and others within the company are updating their resumes and thinking career options; and of course, we on the patient side are anxious to know what's next and how that might affect our future choices given that we're moving into the era of closed-loop systems and Medtronic is dominating there as well.
If you're one of those thinking it's not that big of a deal for patients because insulin pumps are all pretty much the same, think again. We encourage you to review this manifesto by famous CDE Gary Scheiner on why insulin pumps are not a commodity. "There are a number of features that differentiate insulin pumps and make them more suitable for certain people... (with varying) features that affect one’s ability to use a pump safely and manage blood sugars successfully," he writes.
With Roche's recent decision to stop selling its Accu-Chek Spirit insulin pump in the US, our options are fading fast.
We've also heard rumblings of financial trouble at Tandem Diabetes Care, which could effect the future of its touchscreen t:slim pump, but we're crossing our fingers that all remains OK there!
Same goes for Insulet making the OmniPod, though it does have the market advantage of being the only full-featured tubeless pump option available.
In 2015, we lost the up-and-coming insulin pump company Asante Solutions, which closed its doors suddenly in California and discontinued the Snap pump after less than two years on the market. Thankfully, closed loop tech startup Bigfoot Biomedics quickly bought the intellectual property and is weaving the snap-together pump into its future system.
Before that, Smith’s Medical in 2009 suspended and eventually discontinued the Deltec Cozmo pump, though interestingly, Tandem Diabetes eventually bought the Cozmo IP to possibly weave into its pipeline.
Hopefully, we don't see any more pump companies decline anytime soon, because a monopoly is not good in any market -- especially one where the product in question is basically part of the customer's body; there's no way "one size fits all" in the insulin pump world!
So we're rooting for you, JnJ / Animas / Lifescan / One Touch! Please be willing to fight for your life the way we patients do every day with diabetes.