Welcome to the fourth in our series of interviews with the judges of this year's DiabetesMine Design Challenge (with a $10,000 prize; submissions accepted until May 1, 2009).
You may not know his name off-hand, but Robert Oringer is a highly influential entrepreneur and angel investor in the diabetes industry. He pioneered private-label diabetes products such as lancets and glucose tablets long before these things were available off-the-shelf in every local drugstore. Robert also has two young sons with Type 1 diabetes, so his life is all entwined with making progress in treating -- and eventually curing -- this illness.
DBMine) As a veteran of the diabetes industry, what do you see as the most important innovations over the last 5-10 years?
RO) Since the question is specifically related to the last 5-10 years, I'd have to focus on the innovations we've seen in new insulins and the insulin delivery devices that also been introduced. It's been more than 10 years ago that I read an article by James Hirsch entitled, "Insulin: How To Restore a Tarnished Miracle." In the article, James described how in its early years after its discovery, insulin hailed as a "miracle cure". He goes on in the article to describe that although insulin today is purer and better than ever before, it is often underused by Type 1 diabetics and frequently avoided by Type 2 patients who should be taking it. He describes that insulin often feared, reviled, misunderstood, poorly taught, used incorrectly, or neglected. I agree with Jim.
Although I can't recall the exact launch dates, I see today's high-tech insulin analogues like Novolog, Humalog, Apidra, Levimir and Lantus as incredible innovations -- bringing people with diabetes critical and powerful "specialty" tools to choose from that include rapid-acting, long-acting, peakless, and generally more predictable speed of action. It's unfortunate that inhaled insulin has not proven successful to date as this would have offered another valuable insulin option to people with diabetes.
At the same time that we've witnessed tremendously improved insulins, we've also been blessed with technology leaps in insulin delivery pumps and pens. (I could elaborate, but this would be quite lengthy.)
DBMine) And what innovations do you think diabetes patients can really expect to change their lives in the NEXT 5-10 years?
RO) I'm hoping we'll see stem cell and other research getting us closer to a cure for diabetes. Even if we see products that merely regenerate some degree of islet cell function that still needs to be supplemented with medication, this will result in dramatically better lifestyles and outcomes for people with diabetes. In the interim, while we wait for the benefits of stem cell and other cure research, I believe we'll continue to see important advancements in insulin analogues and insulin delivery devices.
DBMine) You've been very involved in innovative products for treating hypogylcemia (Dex4 glucose products) and also with mobility aids. As an angel investor, what else is hot right now and why?
As an investor, I'm particularly focused right now on two areas of diabetes self management. The first is improved education about the importance of "being prepared" for potential episodes of hypoglycemia and new products for preventing and treating these episodes. My second area of focus is on the convergence of diabetes self-management devices and mobile phones.
DBMine) Can you tell us how technology has improved the lives of your two young sons with type 1 diabetes? And about the impact on your whole family?
RO) My family has benefited tremendously from the improved insulins and insulin delivery devices I mentioned previously. Both of my children are very active in sports and depend on frequent testing, fast-acting insulin, and their insulin pumps for good control.
DBMine) Your family was our founding sponsor for the DiabetesMine Design Challenge. Why are you so excited about this open innovation competition for diabetes?
I really enjoy the process of invention and, even more, meeting people who invent things.
Good answer, that last, Robert. Thank you for everything!