Sanofi and Google to collaborate on diabetes

A new alliance between Sanofi and Google has been launched to improve care in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the latest in a growing number of tie-ups between pharma and technology companies.

Sanofi is one of the leading companies in the diabetes field, but its flagship insulin product Lantus is now facing growing competition. The firm is looking at new ways of standing out by providing ‘beyond-the-pill’ benefits for patients, and the new partnership with Google aims to end ‘siloed’ and disjointed care in diabetes using new devices and data analysis.

The venture is the first for Google since it announced the separation of its life sciences division from the core Google data business, but the new deal builds on existing groundbreaking partnerships with Novartis and Dexcom in the diabetes field.

The collaboration will pair Sanofi’s leadership in diabetes treatments with Google’s expertise in analytics, miniaturised electronics and low power chip design.

The companies say they will explore how to improve diabetes care by developing new tools that bring together many of the previously siloed pieces of diabetes management and enable new kinds of interventions. This could include health indicators such as blood glucose and haemoglobin A1c levels, patient-reported information, medication regimens and sensor devices.

Despite its leadership in pharmaceutical products for diabetes, Sanofi is not a market leader in blood glucose meters and devices, with firms such as Abbott Diabetes Care and Bayer having a stronger presence. Sanofi launched its iBGStar glucose monitor a few years ago, allowing users to transfer data direct to their iPhones, but this is still some way short of a seamless monitoring system.

If the Google partnership can develop next-generation monitoring devices, it could help Sanofi leapfrog is competitors and pioneer truly data-driven patient care.

Diabetes is the most obvious therapy area to attempt this in, as patients need to check their blood glucose every day – in contrast to other conditions where such habits are not so well ingrained.

Google’s partnership with Novartis’ eye care division Alcon centres on developing a contact lens that measures glucose in the tears of patients, and will allow continuous monitoring.

The technology firm’s work with Dexcom involves developing a low-cost, disposable device the size of a plaster to be worn on the skin, which will send blood glucose readings direct to a smartphone or doctor’s computer.

“As a global leader in diabetes care, we have both an obligation and a commitment to provide integrated solutions for people living with diabetes,” said Olivier Brandicourt, chief executive, Sanofi. “This initiative combines Sanofi’s strength and knowledge in diabetes with Google’s leadership in technology and analytics to create a first-of-its-kind initiative with the potential to transform diabetes care.”

“With new technologies emerging to provide a more continuous and real-time view of a patient’s health, we can see the promise for more proactive and effective ways to control diabetes,” said Andy Conrad, chief executive of the life sciences team at Google. “Together with Sanofi, we believe diabetes management can be simpler and more convenient, which may help patients achieve an improved quality of life.”

“We have built expertise in providing holistic, integrated solutions that combine medicines, devices, technologies and services,” said Pascale Witz, executive vice president, Sanofi, who will lead the global diabetes and cardiovascular care business unit in the company’s new organisational structure. “The life sciences team at Google can help us improve the patient experience, outcomes and manage healthcare costs more effectively.”

The firms have also invited the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts to be a partner in the venture. It is the world’s largest diabetes research centre, clinic and provider of diabetes education, and its chief executive John L Brooks III said: “Technology, sensors, analytics, and digital solutions will revolutionise how blood sugars are managed, which will deliver improved quality of life, lowering the risk of complications and reducing the costs and barriers associated with diabetes care.”

Thorny questions about how access to patient data, guarantees of data security, and ownership of the data will inevitably arise. Few healthcare systems worldwide are currently ready to process and analyse patient data, but for now Google and its healthcare partners must first create and prove the usefulness of their new data-based products and services.

The Alcon and Google glucose-monitoring contact lens are reported to be preparing for large-scale trials in 2016, a project which will be a trailblazer for pharma and tech firm alliances.

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