Apple & Google to fight Diabetes

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There was a time when diabetes mellitus was pretty much a rarity. With changing lifestyle in a fast paced world, today diabetes is classified as a lifestyle disease. In fact, one in every 19 people around the world has diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 29 million people, or 9.3% of the U.S. population, suffer from high blood sugar. The important frontiers of treating this modern day epidemic is early diagnosis, regular monitoring, medication and treating complications related to diabetes from the start. This includes regular checks of vision, kidneys and even the liver.

Since 1995, the FDA has been kept busy by drug manufacturing companies seeking approval for commercializing medicines to treat and control diabetes. At least 36 drugs have been approved by FDA in the last two decades to treat type I and II diabetes – a majority of them being various dosages and compositions of insulin.

Technology companies in the race

It’s not just drug manufacturers that are battling against diabetes. Leading technology developers like Google and Apple are actively doing research in this field to track and monitor blood sugar levels. Wearable devices and mobile apps to monitor and keep patients informed about their physiological measurements, including levels of glucose in the bloodstream is of primary focus. Google debuted its Google Fit platform to track health metrics such as sleep and exercise on devices running its Android mobile operating system. Apple Inc. unveiled a similar platform called HealthKit.

With the development of wearable devices like wristbands, watches, goggles and contact lenses, technology firms aim to set a foot in the biomedical domain by incorporating non-invasive bio-sensors in everyday gadgets. Apple iWatch, Google Smart Contact Lenses, Samsung smartphones with Samsung S Health and IBM Watson with glucose monitoring systems are all set to aide medical practitioners and diabetic patients.

Google has collaborated with Novartis to develop wearable contact lenses that can monitor glucose levels in tears using a tiny bio-sensor. This completely removes the need for a patient to prick the finger. The glucose level information can be relayed to a distant server through a tiny antenna that is sized thinner than a human hair. Google has already protected the contact lens with patents US 8922366 and US 8884753.

Source: U.S. Patent US 8922366

Google’s contact lens that can test glucose levels in tears        Source: Patent US 8922366

Besides measuring glucose levels, Google has also been developing wearable devices that measure other vital body indices. Patent US 20140378794A1 describes a wearable device that can measure clinically relevant analyte (like blood glucose level) to track the efficacy of insulin administered and transmit information to a remote server.

Google's wearable glucose monitoring device Source: U.S. patent 20140378794A1

Google’s wearable glucose monitoring device
Source: Patent 20140378794A1

Google has 82 U.S. patents and applications claiming various sensors, wearable devices and devices to help diabetics monitor their vital statistics, and Apple has 65 U.S. patents and applications to help diabetics communicate and receive medical assistance during emergencies by integrating communication systems with glucose monitors. IBM has 257 U.S. patents and applications claiming diagnostics techniques, insulin pumps, patient data management, etc., while Samsung has 266 U.S. patents and applications claiming various blood glucose meters and drug delivery devices. Panasonic has also been manufacturing glucose monitoring device. It has 257 U.S. patents and applications.

Number of patents and applications filed by the top 5 assignees in the U.S. region Source: Analysis based on patent data from USPTO

Number of patents and applications filed by leading technology companies in the U.S. region
Source: iRunway analysis

Growing number of diabetes-related patents

The USPTO recorded around 251,734 patent applications since 1995 that dealt with various pharmaceutical drug compositions and diagnostic devices to treat diabetes. Major pharmaceutical manufacturers and biomedical companies have been actively developing therapeutic methods and devices to treat people with this disease. In fact, patenting activity in this domain witnessed a sudden rise post 2000.

Source: Analysis based on patent data from USPTO

Source: iRunway analysis

While pharmacutical companies like Abbott, Sanofi Aventis, Novo Nordisk, Squibb Bristol Meyers, Genentech and Pfizer are among the top assignees, medical device manufacturers like Medtronics, Roche Diagnostics and Dexcom also support the treatment by providing efficient diagnostic and drug delivery systems.

Top assignees of diabetes monitoring and treatment-related patents in the U.S. region Source: Analysis based on patent data from USPTO

Top assignees of diabetes monitoring and treatment-related patents in the U.S. region
Source: iRunway analysis

Genentech was the most active patent applicant in 2003. Abbott Diabetes Care Inc. emerged as a significant applicant since 2007, while Sanofi Aventis has become an active drug manufacturer and researcher since 2012. Synergistic approach can be seen in diagnostic techniques and novel drug compositions.  The discovery of improved chemical drugs and biomolecule-based treatment shows an increased focus to develop advanced diagnostic techniques to monitor and measure glucose.

Distribution of U.S. patents and applications in diagnosis and monitoring of glucose level and novel drug/ biomolecules for treatment Source: Analysis based on patent data from USPTO

Distribution of U.S. patents and applications in diagnosis and monitoring of glucose levels and drugs/ biomolecules for treatment
Source: iRunway analysis

Though technology companies like Google, Apple and IBM aim to reach out to patients and healthcare providers, it is unlikely that they will be interested to build healthcare and medical devices that require FDA approvals. The incubation time, clinical trials and strict FDA regulations may prove to be hurdles for these tech savvy companies to capture the fast changing market. This means that tech companies are more likely to make commercially useful smart gadgets like smartphones and wearable medical devices with non-invasive physiological monitoring systems to aid customers. But an integration of smart gadgets with biomedical monitoring devices can together usher in a more non-invasive, yet accurate monitoring of vitals for diabetics.

(Featured image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/7069578953)

Aditi Das
Aditi Das

Aditi Das is a compulsive sci-fi dreamer who conjures up aliens from vehicles stuck in a traffic snarl. When she isn’t driving teams, inspiring them to shred technologies to pieces and unearth their DNA, she’s busy dishing up Bengali food and blogging.


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