Update: This article has been updated to clarify potentially misleading claims about Novo Nordisk being first to market.
Novo Nordisk has struck a deal with Flex Digital Health, part of the IoT logistics company Flex, formerly known as Flextronics. Novo Nordisk will use Flex's BrightInsight platform, which focuses on managing connectivity and compliance for regulated digital health devices, as it rolls out two new connected insulin pens.
Novo Nordisk announced the launch of the two connected insulin pens at the beginning of this month. The company plans to roll out the devices, dubbed the NovoPen 6 and NovoPen Echo Plus, worldwide, starting in early 2019.
"People taking insulin are still not achieving glycemic control," Anders Dyhr Toft, corporate vice president of commercial innovation at Novo Nordisk, told MobiHealthNews. "Sometimes they're skipping injections. Almost always they don’t get titrated to the right specific dose. These are the areas where we think digital health solutions can enable the patient to get better control. And the first step that we’re taking to help the patient get better control is via connecting our insulin pens to smartphones. And by doing so, the insulin pens will send data into the phone and integrate with diabetes management platforms."
In addition to announcing the new products, the Danish pharma company announced non-exclusive technology partnerships with Dexcom, Glooko and Roche to allow their apps to be used with the new pens. Novo Nordisk also has an existing relationship with IBM Watson Health.
Why it matters
This is a significant commitment to digital health for Novo Nordisk. After announcing the connected pens and data partnerships, signing an agreement with Flex signals that this is just the beginning for the company.
"This is the first step for Novo Nordisk," Toft said. "It fits perfectly with Novo Nordisk’s strategy of not only delivering insulin drugs, but also making it easier for patients to live with and manage their diabetes. And this is really a first step for us in the digital health space."
Flex Digital Health has set itself up as a one-stop shop for pharma and med-tech companies to manage the data and infrastructure for connected devices that are subject to regulation by the FDA as well as laws like HIPAA.
"The BrightInsights platform is basically our main product from Flex Digital Health," Dr. Kal Patel, SVP of digital health at Flex, told MobiHealthNews. "It’s an IoT platform for regulated connected devices and drugs. So what Bright Insight does is integrates at the edge with any source of medical data, whether it’s a regulated app, a regulated algorithm like a drug dosing titration algorithm, a connected device like an inhaler or a smart pill bottle or a therapy device like a CPAP machine or a dialysis machine. Regardless of the source of the data, we integrate with whatever that data source is and we manage all the regulatory privacy and security aspects of that data and whatever intended use you may have. We’re what we call medical grade; we’re really built for pharma and med tech companies in order to build digital health products on top of our platform."
The connected pens will allow patients to track trends in their insulin use and discuss them with their doctor. Eventually, the connectivity opens the door for algorithms that could help patients dose properly or notifications that could prompt them to stay adherent.
What's the trend?
A slew of startups has been working on getting connected insulin pens to market since at least 2016. And big pharma hasn't been oblivious: one of those startups, Companion Medical, is backed by Eli Lilly, and Sanofi funded a trial of Common Sensing's device. While Companion's InPen device has been on the market by prescription since last year, Novo Nordisk would be the first pharma company to market with a connected pen, which is historically appropriate, since Novo Nordisk invented the insulin pen itself back in 1985.
"Across the pharma and med tech industry, one thing we’re seeing that’s really promising is that pharma and med tech is really moving in a big way toward regulated digital health," Patel said. "A lot of the digital health that’s out there today operates outside of regulatory. Of course we’re seeing that change with digital therapeutics like Pear and others that have started coming along. And I think [companies are] recognizing that you need to complement things like lifestyle coaching in the unregulated space with medical-grade data and be able to develop solutions that are regulated that are doing things like making recommendations and suggestions."
Some time after it rolls out the durable pens, it intends to add connectivity to its disposable insulin pens. After that, the company has plans to work with Flex on other digital health products.