If you were hoping to buy a new Accu-Chek brand insulin pump from Roche Diabetes Care anytime soon, you're unfortunately out of luck.
There's now one less player in the pump market, as the diabetes device company that makes the popular Accu-Chek brand of meters, test strips and insulin pumps has made the decision to stop selling pumps here in the United States -- at least for now.
We learned about this when a CDE contacted us after an Accu-Chek rep apparently told her that Roche had "dropped out of the U.S. pump market," and this educator was surprised not to find any details on the company website. "This is not the way other pump companies have handled ceasing operations... and I wondered why. Do you have any back story?" she wrote us.
Reaching out to Roche, spokeswoman Anne Gill confirmed that the company is not accepting any new pump customers as of Dec. 31, 2016, and explained:
"At the end of the year, Roche Diabetes Care did re-prioritize our efforts in the U.S. with regards to our IDS (insulin delivery system) business. We are no longer proactively upgrading or acquiring new pump patients on our current system. Instead, we are concentrating our efforts on servicing our current Accu-Chek Spirit and Accu-Chek Combo patients."
What Went Wrong?
When we pressed for more detail, Gill shifted into marketing mode, saying how excited the company is about its new Accu-Chek Guide glucose monitor that was just FDA-approved last Fall and will go on sale this year. By not selling new pumps, she said, the company can focus on the launch for this Accu-Chek Guide system... wow, really?!
It's a bit unclear whether this is a permenent decision, given that Gill tells us the company remains committed to bringing an array of "new innovations" here to the U.S. "This decision will not have an impact on our ability to successfully launch products in the future – including pumps, CGM and mobile tools," she says. Huh?!
So they're just taking a break on insulin pumping...? One can only assume that they have some more futuristic pump technology in the works. But honestly, why exit the market completely now, only to re-enter it later? Why not keep selling their current pumps until the next gen is ready?
In case you'd forgotten what insulin pumps Roche actually makes: The Accu-Chek Spirit Combo pump hit the U.S. market in 2012, the first time in six years that the company had launched a new insulin pump following the Spirit's debut in 2006. Other devices exist outside the U.S. -- including the Accu-Chek Insight -- but there's no word on that coming here to the States anytime soon. And certainly, most have given up any hope that the Solo patch pump that Roche acquired back in 2010 (!) will ever see the light of day. But maybe...?
btw, this business decision by Roche to re-prioritize did result in layoffs, Gill tells us, but she declined to say how many people lost their jobs.
Current Customers & Market Share
Roche emphasizes that current customers will still have customer support until their devices go off warranty. Specifically, through Roche Health Solutions (RHS) and its durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, the company plans to continue to fully support the current customer base -- "ensuring that patients have access to disposable products, cartridges, infusion sets, etc., necessary to manage their diabetes with pump therapy. "That also includes technical support," Gill says.
Still, the end is in clear sight and it's a bummer. Any time we lose a choice in a diabetes device, it's not good.
It's true that the market hasn't been kind to Roche over the years, and for many the company's pump sales have almost been a running joke: "Roche sells a pump?" and "Roche who?" But we also know many people who use this pump and really do love it. But OK, in the grand scheme, it's a tiny portion of insulin pumpers here in the States.
That's a shame, particularly given the history. Many may not remember, but this Roche pump was one of the first two on the market back in the day. Yep, way back before Insulet's OmniPod even existed and before Animas launched its first pump in 2000, and before Medtronic bought Minimed in 2001, the device that eventually became the Accu-Chek Spirit was known as the Disetronic H-Tron pump. It was first approved in '91, and when I personally started considering an insulin pump roughly a decade later, the only two choices were the Disetronic and Minimed brands.
It's fascinating how times change and it's simply amazing how far we've come since then, but we're sad to see Roche throw in the towel on insulin pumping.
An 'Evolving' Insulin Pump Market
This change shows just how difficult the pump market is here in the States, particularly given our convoluted health insurance system that complicates coverage and access for so many of us in the D-Community.
Roche isn't alone in its struggles. Just a couple years ago, we saw the demise of California-based Asante Solutions and the Snap pump. Thankfully, the technology was quickly acquired by closed loop startup Bigfoot Biomedical and weaved into that pipeline, so hopefully it will resurface as part of an Artificial Pancreas systems. But it had been years since anything like that had happened, since the Deltec Cozmo pump by Smith's Medical disappeared from the market here in the U.S. back in 2009.
Over at JnJ, with news of the next-gen Vibe Plus insulin pump being approved by the FDA, that company announced it would be removing the "Animas" brand name from its devices, so the new system is now called the OneTouch Vibe Plus. Bye, bye Animas?
While JnJ tells us there are no plans to dissolve Animas at this time and nothing else is going on behind the scenes (yeah, right!), we know there's been talk for years about divulging themselves of Animas as its own spinoff division. We'll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, we remain a bit worried about Tandem and Insulet, which both make popular and very unique insulin pumps and are both apparently struggling to stay afloat amid tough competition. Rumor has it that both are talking of acquisitions, with Medtronic possibly buying the touchscreen Tandem tech -- though that's only speculation and hasn't been confirmed in any official way.
There are also a number of new bolus-only patch pumps being designed for people with type 2, so at least those options may continue to exist.
Whether this Roche move has any major impact on the overall pump market here in the States is anyone's guess. But as potential pump customers, it's one less choice we have when deciding on a new 24/7 companion that sticks to your body and keeps you alive. Less choice there is never a good thing.
Needless to say, we hope for the best in whatever comes next for the insulin pumping world.