Dexcom alums develop blood sugar-sensing wearable for health-conscious consumers

By Brian Dolan
09:29 am

GlucovationThree former Dexcom employees left the company last year to form a new venture, Glucovation, which is developing a direct-to-consumer, wearable device that continuously senses glucose for people trying to lose weight or improve their athletic performance. The Glucovation team is headed up by Dexcom's former senior technical director for R&D, Robert Boock, who was in charge of that company's future generation sensor products. Boock's co-founders include Jeff Suri, who was a senior scientist at Dexcom and brings the chemistry expertise to Glucovation's device, and Kenneth San Vincente, who was a senior engineer at Dexcom in charge of that company's smartphone integration initiatives among other things.

While there has been a spate of wearable devices popping up on crowdfunding sites promising noninvasive sensors that can help people passively track how their bodies are responding to the food they eat, the Glucovation team is one of the only ones to emerge with bona fides like experience at Dexcom. Boock also is quick to mention that Glucovation's wearable is minimally invasive not noninvasive.

"This is a minimally invasive device," Boock told MobiHealthNews in a recent interview. "That is the price you have to pay if you want real science. I've been in the diabetes monitoring space for 10 or 12 years, noninvasive technology has always been touted as being The Holy Grail. It's been 35 years of frustration, and it's really difficult if not impossible to do. Personally, I would shake the hand of the person who ever solves that problem, but there is no technology in existence that I know of that can be used to measure glucose noninvasively reliably enough to be used going forward."

Like many Dexcom employees Boock spent a considerable amount of time wearing a continuous glucose monitor even though he's not managing diabetes. 

"Since we all worked for Dexcom we were all privy to wearing those sensors," he said. "I'm a health-conscious guy. I do a lot of working out. I learned a lot myself wearing the device, and it kind of dawned on me through my experience with those devices that these really need to migrate over from a medical device to more of a consumer, health-conscious product."

Boock said that Glucovation spent the better part of last year developing a few technical innovations that help move CGMs into the consumer realm -- including doing away with constant finger pricks for device calibration. Glucovation has been bootstrapped and raised about $500,000 since its founding in May 2013, but it is actively seeking investors now via a campaign on Fundable.

"We went to CES this year to try and see if the consumer space was a good play for us," Boock said. "We've been pleasantly surprised all along the way to find that this seems to be something that people are very hungry for -- directly looking at their metabolism, understanding what is happening with their blood sugar and the impact of every meal and exercise."

Glucovation's device will generate a composite metric that takes into account the wearer's glucose variability -- their highs and lows -- in addition to their glucose load for the day.

"We don't expect people who have never had to manage their blood sugar to know much about it," he said. "We are really trying to condense all of that dense technical information down to a single metric that really has a lot of consumer-friendly information, but is still backed by a lot of good science. For now, let's call that the Glucose Wellness Index. You could put it on an activity tracker or on an app on your phone.... We developed some technical innovations to make that work."

Boock said their device won't look like a traditional medical CGM device that he said has the appearance of a device that is injecting the user. While people who are use to managing type 1 diabetes with insulin injection might be a little more tolerant of a device like that, Boock said, most consumers won't be. Losing weight and improving athletic performance are two of the problems Glucovation aims to help people solve.

"There are a lot of diet books and programs out there promising to work for you, but this device is something different," he said. "When you eat something bad, your blood sugar goes up. Even if you are not a diabetic person, your blood sugar does have variation. Even if you are a healthy adult. It can go up very rapidly if you, say, eat a donut and chug a soda. Your blood sugar is going to go up very quickly. What happens is that your body reacts to that sugar by dumping a lot of insulin. You can go down just as fast and you can actually go 'hypo' -- and that can trigger cravings.... Then your brain says it needs sugar fast and begins thinking about things that it associates with sugar, which are always [unhealthy] food. Then you get on that rollercoaster."

Boock thinks with a device that his team is developing dieters could keep their blood sugar in check, feel better, and eat healthier, while losing weight. It will also make weight loss programs more sustainable, he said.

Athletes can use the device to better understand their limits and pre-empt themselves from running out of energy during a workout.

"If you are a cyclist and you've done long rides before, you know at some point you've run out of energy," Boock said. "This is something that could help you with that. It will tell you your blood sugar is low, do something about it before you run into performance issues."

Glucovation also points to a growing body of evidence that shows in the longterm, blood glucose variability might be linked to various other health issues like cardiovascular disease. In the future devices like the one their developing could help providers better manage patient populations -- especially people who are prediabetic.

While its still early days for the company, it aims to keep its device's pricepoint around $150 and the replaceable sensors at about $20 each.


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