It might be a tad overdramatic to say that this is the moment we've all been waiting for, but the news coming out of Sanofi-aventis today is definitely exciting. After five long months since its FDA approval in December, the company has finally announced that their new iBGStar, the FIRST and only meter to work in conjunction with the iPhone and iPod touch, has come to market and is available for purchase.
Yesterday, Sanofi flew in a small group of bloggers and analysts to its headquarters in New Jersey to let us test the iBGStar, answer our questions about this new device, and share a bit about what motivated Sanofi — which up until now has been mostly famous for their diabetes drug, Lantus, not medical devices — to jump into this side of the diabetes business. The bloggers included familiar DOC faces like Kerri Sparling, Kim Vlasnik, Leighann Calentine, Riva Greenberg, and Emily Coles, plus analyst David Kliff of Diabetic Investor, and Kelly Close and Adam Brown from Close Concerns. Plus we had one outsider: Brian Dolan of Mobile Health News.
To be clear, this meeting was a product launch. Unlike the pharma social media Summits we've attended recently, this was not a pow-wow about how to work better with diabetes bloggers, and the focus of the meeting was not on what we think of the iBGStar — although I guess it was a given that this vocal group would share our opinions!
Shawna Gvazdauskas, Vice President, Head of Devices at Sanofi's U.S. Diabetes division, began by outlining the various avenues where Sanofi is building out its diabetes business. She was talking our talk when she said, "Our commitment as a company is to help people live better with innovative and integrated solutions." Shawna also explained that their products are designed "not only to help people manage their diabetes better, but to improve their overall experience."
Kelly Close, a type 1 PWD who has spent the last 10 years analyzing the diabetes industry, followed up by saying, "I think there are so many diabetes devices and drugs that are good for me, but they don't necessarily improve my experience." This is of course exactly what we set out to accomplish with our DiabetesMine Design Challenge, and this year's Patient Voices Contest, and it's great to see a company taking this message to heart!
Shawna also explained that Sanofi recognizes that PWDs are no longer just patients, but they are consumers, which she says is an important distinction.
"It's not just about getting a prescription and getting it filled in a passive manner," Shawna said. "(PWDs) now ask, 'Do I want to go on a pump or not? Do I want a pump with tubing or not? Do I want to go on injections? What would I prefer?"
People have power?! Amen to that!
The second part of Sanofi's presentation was a demo of the iBGStar by Lisa Aurand, an endocrinologist and Medical Director for the Diabetes division. Unfortunately, she did the demo from the front of the room using just her own iPhone, which was of course hard to see from a distance. It would have been better with a slide show of images, I thought...
That is, until they brought out iBGStar glucose meters for each attendee! Those who hadn't downloaded the iBGStar app quickly hit the iTunes Store and glucose readings started flying! Not much about the meter has changed since last fall, when Amy gave us a sneak peek of her iBGStar unit, so if you're curious about the nuts and bolts of the meter, you can check out her review.
Personally, I think this little meter is a substantial improvement in the world of glucose meters. As a long-time Apple fangirl, I'm thrilled that my meter talks to my phone without having to manually plug in all my readings (oh how I loathe logging), and the interface of the iBGStar app is clean and easy-to-read. There will also be a black case available to hold both the iPhone and the meter, which will be available through Sanofi once you purchase your iBGStar.
Brian Dolan, editor of Mobile Health News, said the iPhone app was "beautifully designed" and he believed the relationship between Sanofi and Apple was "very encouraging" for the development of future health apps with other device companies.
Shawna stated that Apple is very interested in healthcare as a new area of innovation and development. Apple recently held a series of meetings called "Enterprise Health," which Shawna explained where wildly successful. She shared that 75% of healthcare professionals have an iDevice of some kind, so that bodes well for the development of even more apps and devices that will sync with our everyday consumer technology.
After our hands-on playtime, we had a chance to ask Sanofi some specific questions about the iBGStar and what was next on their plate.
As expected, everyone's #1 question was: how much is this thing gonna cost?
Kind of a lot for a glucose meter, actually. But hey, the full phone integration really is revolutionary!
Right now, the iBGStar is available for over-the-counter purchase at Walgreens, via DiabetesCareServices, and... at Apple retail stores! Yep, Apple will have iBGStars available for purchase at all of their retail outlets and on the Apple website. But there's a catch. Because Apple will not engage in insurance reimbursements (since they're not a pharmacy - right!), they are selling the iBGStar starter kit for $99.95, BUT they will not be selling individual boxes of the iBGStar test strips. In their starter kit, you'll get an iBG meter, the charger (the iBGStar needs to be regularly juiced up), a lancing device, and a vial of 50 test strips. This is to give folks the opportunity to use the meter before visiting a pharmacy, which is the only place you can buy iBGStar test strips.
On the other hand, Walgreens and DiabetesCareServices will retail the starter kit for just $75.95, because their starter kits only come with a vial of 10 test strips. You can then purchase additional strips directly from these providers.
Initially, Walgreens and DCS will be the main distributors of the iBGStar. If you belong to another pharmacy, you can also purchase the meter through McKesson, a warehouse distributor which most pharmacies work with. Later this year, the iBGStar will be available at a wider range of pharmacies.
Once you've got your meter, test strips will retail for $64.95 for 50 strips, which is on par with Lifescan, Roche and Abbott meters. Sanofi will have Patient Assistance Cards through their Star Savings program (though sadly our friends using Medicare or who live in MA aren't qualified - bummer!). The Star Savings program allows folks to get a monthly supply of iBGStar test strips for a $20 a month co-pay. That's a pretty sweet deal. The cards will be good until at least the end of 2013, and possibly beyond; Sanofi is still working with insurance companies to figure out coverage, so check with your insurance plan to see if the iBGStar strips are covered. However, cash consumers are still eligible to use the Star Saving program.
Although Sanofi didn't get into details about upcoming projects, a few things on the to-do list include improving the iBGStar lancing device (which is hardly discreet or innovative) and integrating Sanofi's GoMeal app (which has already been downloaded over 400,000 times!) with the iBGStar app.
If you're wondering how Sanofi will handle Apple's multiple tech upgrades — a great question posed by David Kliff of Diabetic Investor — the company says they're "staying in touch" to make any necessary upgrades if Apple's technology should change. Shawna explained that they're in constant contact with the FDA, and she's hopeful that the next round of approvals at the FDA will be much faster. Because there is now a predicate device, an upgraded version of the iBGStar will hopefully not require a 510(K) application and the same rigamarole of scrutiny that new devices face.
Out of all the info, stats and Sanofi history we were given, the one phrase that stood out to me the most was when Shawna said, "If we don't innovate, we don't belong in this space." This (!) is what I hope diabetes device and pharmaceutical companies are picking up on. Here at the 'Mine, we have spent five years shouting from the rooftops about how important innovative design is, and it is SO encouraging to hear it repeated back to us, without any prompting.
But it doesn't surprise us that Sanofi has placed such importance on innovation. When knew this well because they are, after all, our premiere sponsor of the 2012 DiabetesMine Innovation Summit and this year's new Patient Voices Contest. We're very excited to be awarding iBGStar meters to the 10 winners of the Patient Voices Contest!
If you're passionate about diabetes design innovation and the iBGStar "speaks to you," then head on over to the Patient Voices Contest page to find out how you can enter to win a new iBGStar, plus a scholarship to our Innovation Summit this November, where you can share your own thoughts face-to-face with execs from Sanofi and other leading diabetes companies.