The Diabetes Community got a quick and unwanted snap of harsh reality last Friday when Asante Solutions, makers of the innovative Snap insulin pump, suddenly announced they were closing up shop.
With no advanced warning, we learned that the newest and quite novel diabetes device that's only been on the market for two years will suddenly be no more. As reported in our initial newsflash, Asante posted a virtual "Closed for Business" sign on its website at the end of the day Friday and that brief post pretty much served as its public notice of what happened.
The ugly reality is that no matter how good a device may be, or how great a company's ideals and its people are, diabetes care is a business and sometimes the financial side just doesn't work out.
RIP, Asante Snap.
Now customers are left scrambling, calling distributors to find out how supplies might be available for the now-discontinued Snap pump. That's a total of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people already using the Snap, plus another 200 who were doing free trials that now won't materialize into anything more. Competitors are swooping in to make offers to snag those Snap pumpers left hanging, and we've got the details on those offers, below.
Everyone who worked for Asante is without a job, of course. Asante's assets are being divvied up, and everything the company owned -- including its intellectual property -- will go to the highest bidders.
Snap was very well-received, with customers raving about the quick convenient insulin cartridge changes, easy-to-navigate menu, and customizable look and feel. The company also did some of the most innovative things in insulin pump marketing to date, we think, with re-chargeable brochures and such.
So wait, how the eff did it all fall apart?!
That's the big question, and even though some industry insiders believe the writing was pretty clearly on the wall, much of what went down remains a mystery to most of us. And really, this whole ordeal may very well be a case study for the diabetes industry and health tech startups looking to get into this medical device world.
How and Why
The Snap pump has been on the market since mid-2013, and the company's created a truly novel medical device gaining popularity across the country on both the tech and data fronts. It seemed they had an exciting future in the works. At one point, they'd announced a personalized MySnap concept allowing customers to choose from 250 different combo pump faces, and Asante was also the first to sign up with non-profit data-sharing group Tidepool pushing for open data integration and interoperability. Less than a year ago, we got a sneak peak of the "under the glass" prototype of the next-gen Snap that would share Dexcom CGM data via smartphone. Asante was also involved in other great efforts like no other company, for example sponsoring university research to create a talking insulin pump for the visually impaired.
Sadly, it appears that Asante's demise was dictated by money, plain and simple.
This medical device company has actually been around for just under a decade, formerly known as M2 Medical Inc. and based in Denmark before moving to Silicon Valley in 2006. Asante spent years developing its click-together insulin pump that was initially called the Pearl, and that device got FDA clearance in 2011 but never went commercial.
Instead, Asante spent the next two years re-branding the insulin pump before announcing in Spring 2013 it would be named the Snap and be rolled out gradually throughout the U.S. But that was with only the pre-filled Humalog cartridges, and not the Novolog-compatible one that's been in the works but now will never be.
In December 2014, the company started the process to go public and file an IPO, and Asante had plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol PUMP, hoping to use the investment money to streamline its manufacturing operations. They even upped their ante and tried to raise more money at the start of the year, before deciding in late March to cancel those plans and formally withdraw the IPO. This was bad timing to go public, as other health-related IPOs also fell through about the same time and other D-device companies weren't reporting favorable finances, says Mark Estes, who was chief product architect at Asante.
Unfortunately, Asante wasn't able to find any suitors or partners after that, Estes tells us, and it all led up to the fateful day of Tuesday, May 12, when the company's Board made the final call that they'd be shutting down. Asante's leadership spent the next three days prepping for this announcement, while still courting hope that a last-minute acquisition offer could come to the rescue. On Friday morning May 15, Asante's sales force and employees were brought in to be briefed, and by day's end, the news went public.
"Once it was over, we did not hold back the news," Estes says. "The world knew within three days. That is quick, given what we had to to get organized. We moved quickly to execute a plan that would not make things worse. We literally tried everything we could to keep on going. Want, heart and desire are not enough sometimes. Cold hard cash is what we needed. It was not to be had."
(See our Companion Coverage here for a blow-by-blow report by Mark Estes on how the end materialized.)
This certainly isn't the first diabetes device and business to go under, with one of the most recent examples being the Deltec Cozmo that was discontinued by parent company Smith's Medical in 2009. The difference there was that Deltec was just a division closure of a much larger company, so existing warranties and product support could easily stay in place for a period afterward.
It's a shame to see Asante dissolving now. We're very sorry to hear this news, as Asante has been an exciting young player in the diabetes market with so much potential. We're sending our best to the entire team, and wishing them the best in whatever comes next.
Asante wants current Snap pumpers to know that they are supported for the time being. They say that all current customers should have at least 1.5 months of supplies on hand, and more will be available from the 11 distributors nationwide.
Distributors are also being given the chance to buy more Snap supplies at a discounted rate for customers who want to remain on the pump for the time being, and some of those third-party distributors apparently have a year or more of supplies in stock, Asante says. However, we've heard some distributors are expressing trepidation about having too much Asante Snap stock piled up without a guaranteed demand from customers who may be switching devices soon.
So if you're a Snap user, first thing to do: Call your distributor. If you happen to have a pump that's still within the 30-day return policy, that's also an option through a distributor.
From there, a decision can be made about switching to another insulin pump, and the offers are multiplying.
Competitors to the Rescue?
Just as happened in the aftermath of the Deltec Cozmo shutdown, competitors are turning their attention to Snap customers and the market gap this creates -- notably Animas, Insulet and Medtronic.
- Animas: When this news broke, Asante directed customers immediately to JnJ-owned Animas, urging them to call 1-877-937-7867 x1562 to talk with customer reps. Wednesday Update: We just got word that the Animas Asante Replacement program offers adult patients the choice between the Animas Vibe system or the OneTouch Ping for $99 (Vibe is approved for those 18 and older only, while Ping is for all ages). Patients will be charged $799 up front, and then receive a $700 credit upon receipt of the returned Asante pump. This offer is valid through July 17, 2015. The Animas pump warranty will mirror the warranty remaining on patients’ Asante pump, and no returns or exchanges will be allowed.
- Insulet: On Tuesday, this company announced its OmniPod Welcome Program, an exclusive offer for Asante Snap customers wanting to switch to the tubeless pump. It includes a free PDM (personal diabetes manager) and 10 free Pods. The full details and more info is available by calling 1-888-6-GETPOD.
- Medtronic Diabetes tells us they plan to offer a program for Asante customers, but hadn't worked out the details by Tuesday's deadline. Thursday Update: Medtronic is now offering an Asante Support Program is exclusive to Snap customers, that's available for an unspecified limited time to get a recertified 530G or Paradigm Revel pump. The CGM kit is not included in this offer. The cost is officially $1,200, but you don't get billed up front and can reduce the total bill to $0 by participating in surveys, uploading to CareLink, etc. You only get charged if you don't complete those offers. More detail is available by calling (877) 691-8185.
- Tandem Diabetes Care didn't respond to initial question about their plans. With the company's recent kerfuffle over "no upgrade offers" and Tuesday's launch of the 480-unit t:flex, we have to wonder if Tandem is even interested in snagging Snap customers at this time. May 26 Update: Tandem announced a trade-in credit of up to $400 for Asante customers, last through July 31, 2015. More details are available online, and by calling the copmany during business hours at (877) 801-6901.
- Roche Diabetes Care isn't offering anything different for Asante's flock either, except the typical pump choices for any customer considering the Accu-Chek Spirit Combo. Those interested can call 1-866-703-3476.
Any Future for Asante's Tech?
Will any of these competitors buy up parts of the Asante Snap IP (intellectual property) and weave those features intotheir own diabetes devices? That is likely, given that Asante's former leaders tell us they're working with a firm that will put the Asante assets up for sale. Direct competitors are of course the hottest candidates to purchase patents, similar to how Tandem Diabetes bought legacy Deltec Cozmo patents in 2013 from Smith's Medical after that pump was pulled from market.
Fortunately, Bigfoot Biomedical stepped up pretty quickly to acquire the Asante IP and carry it forward with their future closed loop tech!
That good-turn aside, this is still an overall sad story for the insulin pump market and our D-Community. Because we're down a choice.
But perhaps also an important cautionary tale to others looking to jump into the ever-changing diabetes tech world. Estes certainly sees it that way -- as a story about taking a risk that in the end didn't pan out, but still made a difference.
"I would hate to see our demise drive people to older, less innovative choices so it is important to keep perspective," he wrote to us in an email. "Having to change pumps, while not fun, is also not the end of the world. Embracing new solutions moves the world ahead in a positive direction, despite some risks. As is, there are at least 500 people on pumps today that may not have been were it not for the Snap. That is a positive no matter how you look at it."