We knew Google was interested in diabetes — with their glucose-sensing contact lens project and CGM development agreement with Dexcom. But now they’ve jumped in with both feet, so to speak, launching a whole new company! Exciting news for us folks with diabetes, even though the details are still under wraps…

You may have seen the headlines about this new joint venture with Sanofi called Onduo (for “onward together”) based in Cambridge, MA, and initially fueled by $500 million in backing from Google Verily, the company’s life sciences division.

According to the news release, Onduo will combine Sanofi’s drug development knowledge with Verily’s expertise in data analytics, software and miniaturized devices to create tools to “transform diabetes care.” This comes on the heels of last summer’s announcement that Google was collaborating with the New Jersey-based insulin maker to tackle diabetes.

They’ll begin by focusing on tools for type 2 diabetes that “help people make better decisions about their day-to-day health, ranging from improved medication management to improved habits and goals.” Over time, the company plans to expand their focus to include type 1 and prediabetes.

We’ve heard these kind of vague announcements before of course, but what stands out here is Onduo’s immediate efforts to include our patient community; they’re already working with Dr. Steve Edelman’s Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD) conference community to cull input on their product design process. Awesome!

They’re also already testing a prototype Onduo platform in clinical settings with Sutter Health of Northern California and Allegheny Health Network of Western Pennsylvania, we’re told.

While neither Sanofi nor Google Verily nor new Onduo CEO Josh Riff would talk specifics at this point, we gathered that one area of focus will be connected insulin pens and delivery devices — not surprising given Sanofi’s market lead in insulin and other injectable medications.

Here are some answers we were able to garner from a Sanofi spokeswoman, on behalf of their global diabetes franchise leader Stefan Oelrich:

DM) First, can you clarify what the Onduo name means?

Sanofi) It finds its roots in the words On (forward progress) and Duo (two, partnership, relationship, interaction).

What’s new about this partnership compared to last year’s announcement of Sanofi’s initiative with Google?

This is the advancement from a concept to an independent entity branded Onduo, created through Verily and Sanofi’s diabetes-focused collaboration. It is led by Dr. Joshua Riff, and will operate as a separate legal entity, building on the strengths of the parent companies. This uniquely designed company is focused on transforming the management of diabetes.

Is Joslin Diabetes Center still involved, per the original announcement last year?

Onduo is taking a multi-stakeholder approach by involving the diabetes community, clinicians, payers and healthcare professionals in the product development process. So far, we can communicate two collaborations: Sutter Health of Northern California and Allegheny Health Network of western Pennsylvania. They are among the first healthcare networks to collaborate with Verily and Onduo to test the Onduo platform with healthcare professionals and people with type 2 diabetes in a clinical care setting.

We know you’re not sharing specifics now, but what can you tell us about the products being developed?

Onduo’s goal is to stop the global diabetes epidemic and engage the world in the fight by creating truly complete, elegant solutions (devices, software, medicine and professional care) so each medical professional and patient can manage diabetes simply and intelligently. These tools will empower patients to understand their health and provide personalized insights and actions to improve as and when you need it. We are in early days of these efforts. The focus from this point will be on continued execution and research.

What’s the timeline our patient community should expect to start seeing results from this?

The target for initial product offerings is 2018.

Why is this important, especially when past Sanofi partnerships haven’t succeeded, and when so many others in the diabetes space are collaborating with Verily and Big Data players?

Integrated care is part of Sanofi’s strategy for diabetes. Our goal is to develop new solutions that fit seamlessly into patients’ lives, and help them achieve better outcomes, better patient experiences and ultimately help manage healthcare cost. Onduo will operate as a separate legal entity, building on the strengths of the parents companies, Verily and Sanofi, with real commitment to combining respective expertise and visionaries focused on transforming the management of diabetes.

Thanks, Sanofi, for taking the time to reply.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see Dr. Joshua Riff at the helm of Onduo, with his past leadership experience at Optum Health, the main pharmacy benefits manager for United Healthcare. We can’t help wondering if his payer perspective will influence any of the work or data use stemming from Onduo?

Before Optum, Riff served as medical director for Target, overseeing health plans and providing medical oversight to their clinics and pharmacies. He has also worked as an ER doctor at Johns Hopkins.

That is an interesting background he brings to the table, and he must be aware of the recent controversy about insulin and medication costs and #DiabetesAccessMatters.

We reached out to Riff for comment, but all he said was that it’s too early to talk specifics. He’s also recently quoted in a Business Insider story saying that leaving specifics up in the air at this point is a strategic approach.

“That’s the beauty of it… We’re not jumping to solutions because we’re in a rush to get to market. We’re taking a thoughtful approach to finding lasting solutions,” he said.

In a PharmaVoice story, Riff simply said Onduo will aim to provide PWDs “better insights” and “give them tools to reduce the friction in their lives.” That friction includes routine D-tasks such as daily injections and frequent visits to the doctor, while the “insights” may include identifying certain days of the week or times when a PWD is more likely to have a high or low blood sugar.

Hmm, sounds like tools we could use!

This collaboration is of course indicative of the current trend of consumer technology giants getting involved in healthcare — with diabetes being a initial focus for almost all! Consider:

  • Medtronic’s collaborations with Samsung and the cognitive analytics resource IBM Watson.
  • As well as Novo’s partnership with IBM Watson
  • Philips’ work on a diabetes app and platform
  • Panasonic’s acquisition of Bayer Diabetes Care (now called Ascensia)
  • The Intel-GE Care Innovations initiative focusing on remote care for people with diabetes
  • And of course Apple’s HealthKit and their work with numerous diabetes and health-focused companies

It’s a whole new world of #BigData collaborations for chronic disease care.

And the 800-pound tech gorilla Google of course leads the way, with these efforts (in diabetes and beyond):

It’s hard to argue that the new reality in diabetes and broader healthcare will include these technology companies playing a core role.

We look forward to exploring this topic more at our upcoming DiabetesMine D-Data ExChange event. But in the meantime, we can’t help but feel a bit giddy at all the attention diabetes is getting.

Needless to say, we’re forward to seeing where Onduo goes!