Apps, Internet of Things… How Roche is putting digital at the heart of diabetes care

Nearly 4 million people in France suffer from diabetes, according to Health Insurance. This chronic pathology is characterized by the presence of an excess of sugar in the blood, called hyperglycemia. Type 1 diabetes occurs due to inadequate secretion of insulin by the pancreas, while type 2 diabetes occurs due to poor utilization of insulin by the body’s cells.

Treatment is based on a balanced diet, regular physical activity and medication, in particular insulin. To support affected patients, Roche Diabetes Care, a subsidiary of the Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche, has developed many digital tools to produce and improve medical data.

“Data Pathology”

“Diabetes is a data pathology,” sums up Valerie Armani, director of innovation at Roche Diabetes Care, in an interview with L’Usine Digitale. “You have to count carbohydrates, do the calculations to find out the level of insulin and blood sugar. [taux de sucre dans le sang, ndlr]she adds.

First of all, digital technologies will be used to support the diagnosis of the disease. In this regard, Roche Diabetes Care has developed the Phil app for patients with type 2 diabetes to help them balance their diet with personalized cooking recipes. It also includes a food scanning tool with an algorithm developed by Innit, just like Yuka. Launched in November 2021, it has now reached 60,000 downloads.

To complete Phil, the company is currently working on physical activity-related features through the following programs. Thus, the company is looking for partnerships with suppliers of connected objects such as scales, step counter, blood pressure monitor… “Who says that programs talk about indicators of success, talks about goals and, therefore, about the elements of success,” notes Valerie Armani .

Simplify self-control with a mobile app

Roche Diabetes Care also wants to make it easier for patients to self-monitor their blood sugar levels. To do this, the company developed Accu-chek Sugar View, which is currently being tested by 25 pharmacists and about fifty patients in France. This allows people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes to check their blood sugar from time to time by photographing the strip. The results are analyzed using a special mobile application. “Accu-chek Sugar View lets you learn how to measure your blood sugar,” says Chief Innovation Officer.

Not all patients are comfortable using mobile applications. Roche is also testing InsulinStart, a system based on SMS messaging with healthcare professionals. About twenty physicians (internists and diabetologists) and about fifty patients are participating in this pilot project. The latter receive an SMS every morning to measure their blood sugar levels. The result is sent via SMS. The health worker then tells him the level of insulin to inject.

Remote patient monitoring

Roche also has a remote monitoring platform called the Diabetes Management Platform. Data is collected using blood glucose meters connected to the Gluci-Chek app, a carb counting tool. In this way, physicians can monitor their patients and adapt treatment as needed. Telemonitoring of the Roche Diabetes Care Platform is eligible for participation in the ETAPES program. On this occasion, Valerie Armani recalls that the reimbursement of expenses for telemedicine monitoring will enter into force of common law no later than July 1, 2022. “Therefore, we are in the process of fulfilling the requirements of the Supreme Health Authority,” she emphasizes.

The pharmaceutical group is also building partnerships with, for example, Biocorp. This French company sells a cap designed to “connect” insulin injectors (pens). It automatically collects in real time the doses of insulin selected by the patient during the day. Healthcare professionals can access this information through the Roche Diabetes Care Platform.

Future Innovation: Artificial Pancreas

“We are still looking for what kind of device could enrich our own ecosystem,” explains Valerie Armani. When technology is not being developed in-house, Roche seeks partners to save time. It is this strategy that the subsidiary intends to implement with the artificial pancreas, a future major innovation in the treatment of diabetes. Combined with a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump, it works in a closed loop to automate and personalize insulin delivery with self-learning machine learning. “Obviously we will be partnering with the companies behind these algorithms,” says Valerie Armani.

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