Google Pairs With Sanofi to Move Diabetes Patients to Cloud

Google Teams up with Sanofi on Diabetes Care
  • Companies will work on ways of measuring blood sugar
  • Deal comes after Google agreements with Novartis, DexCom

Google Inc.’s life science unit is still seeking a name but it already has a foe: diabetes.

The U.S. Internet giant on Monday agreed to work with French drugmaker Sanofi to devise new ways of managing a disease that afflicts 382 million people worldwide, adding to recent deals with Novartis AG and DexCom Inc. The companies didn’t disclose financial details of the agreement.

Andy Conrad, the head of Google’s life science team, said diabetes is precisely the kind of disease in which technology can help patients, whose bodies can’t manage sugar, by keeping track of their blood and insulin measurements -- and avoiding discomforts that range from daily finger pricks to more gruesome limb amputations.

“Diabetics are far more likely to have heart attacks, they’re far more likely to have cancer, and they’re 15 times more likely to have their foot cut off because of vascular issues,” Conrad said in an interview. “If we could prevent strong and profound fluctuations in the levels of blood sugar, we could prevent most of the problems associated with diabetes.”

Google last year agreed to work with Novartis to develop contact lenses that use tiny sensors to read blood-sugar levels from tears. Tests on that product will begin next year, Conrad said. This month, Google also said it would work with DexCom on a bandage-sized sensor connected to the cloud. Sanofi, the maker of Lantus, the world’s best-selling insulin, will work on new ways of delivering the hormone, such as Bluetooth-enabled pens that let a physician monitor how much insulin their patient is using, and when.

“That’s the system that we’re endeavoring to build: smart insulin delivery devices, smart measurement devices, and an interface and an integrating platform that helps physicians and patients see how they’re doing,” said Conrad, whose division will be renamed in the coming months as a unit of Google’s new holding company, Alphabet Inc.

Sanofi fell 0.4 percent to 88.13 euros as of 3:45 p.m. in Paris. Google rose less than 0.1 percent to $630.55.

Diabetes, which will affect an estimated 600 million people by 2035, costs about $245 billion a year in the U.S. alone in health-care resources and lost productivity, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Google and Sanofi will develop ways to store and analyze glucose levels in real time, enabling patients and their doctors to respond more quickly to peaks and troughs in blood sugar and avoid long-term complications associated with poor management of the disease, which include heart attacks and cancer.

“The cost of diabetes is the cost of complications of diabetes, which is often not treated well enough and early enough,” said Pascale Witz, the head of Sanofi’s newly-created diabetes and cardiovascular-care unit.

Sanofi last year signed a memorandum of understanding to work with Medtronic Inc. on developing devices for diabetes, but Witz said the Paris-based company will no longer pursue that partnership because "we did not feel that it was going far enough."

Patients monitor their blood sugar several times a day by pricking a finger with a needle and dabbing a drop of blood onto a strip that’s inserted into a meter that computes the level of glucose -- or sugar. Patients also need to monitor their diet and exercise regimes and calculate how much insulin they need, a combination of tasks that means more than half of patients miss their target levels, according to a 2013 study.

Devices that continuously monitor glucose, and upload that data to the cloud, will enable physicians and patients “to move away from the reactive and episodic towards the proactive and preventative,” Conrad said. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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