Earlier this month, Sanofi launched the iBGStar in the UK market as the first blood glucose monitor (BGM) to connect to the Apple iPhone. Sanofi describes it as a breakthrough new approach for people with diabetes taking insulin, and for those who want the latest, cutting-edge technology to manage their condition on-the-go. FirstWord spoke to iBGStar brand manager Jason Lovatt about the device and how it fits within Sanofi’s broader strategy in the diabetes market.
FirstWord: The iBGStar has now launched in the UK but has been available in a number of other countries for a year or so. Can you provide any feedback on how the product has been received to date?
Jason Lovatt: The overwhelming response has been pretty positive, both from patients and healthcare professionals. People are genuinely smiling and happy to see it, which is great. We presented the product at Diabetes UK earlier this month and everyone with an interest in this area just really likes it, it’s a very engaging product.
If someone has an iPhone, it’s something they are using on a very frequent basis, and one of the key benefits of the device is that patients have all their results and data on their iPhone. If people spent just five minutes a week looking at their results and the trends in the data, that can have quite an impact on the management of their diabetes.
So this is not just a device that offers convenience? It can improve the way that patients can treat their diabetes?
Absolutely. The people who will get the most benefit will be those who take a blood glucose result, record their carbohydrate and insulin intake and then add in other details about exercise or diet. Another option which the device offers is mealtime tagging, which allows patients to keep a track of how their eating habits are shaping blood sugar results. It’s really about looking at a result and putting it into context: is it an outlier? Is it something I’ve done regarding my lifestyle, or is it a trend that requires change to my treatment?
How does the iBGStar fit within Sanofi’s broader strategic focus on the diabetes market, particularly in light of how competitive this therapeutic segment is?
The position of Sanofi in recent years in diabetes is that we have had incredible success with Lantus, but our diabetes portfolio extends beyond this franchise, for example one area where we have improved significantly is in insulin pen devices.
For Sanofi it’s important we put diabetes patients and their healthcare professionals at the centre of our business and then build our products around them to provide more. If we focus on what patients need – in this case insulin – monitoring, education and patient support will enhance the patient’s experience significantly. The company firmly believes that if you put those things together, you get more out of them than if you approach each aspect individually.
Because Sanofi has sold insulin for a long time, and has a heritage in this area, we as a company have gained a lot of insight from people with diabetes. We understand what patients need and when you look at the features of our products I believe they support the notion that we have listened to what people want. With the iBGStar, patients also receive a very comprehensive education package to help people understand their condition.
In the diabetes market, the relationship between the patient and the product they use, and with their physician, is potentially quite close. Additional enhancements to your offering – such as the iBGStar – presumably allow you to enhance this relationship further?
With the device we are able to do that, because it’s not subject to the same rules as the pharmaceutical market. We are able to speak to patients directly, from a careline, via advertising or through PR in a way that you can’t with pharmaceutical products in the UK. We are also building a significant online presence around the device.
Initiatives we are developing and utilising will mean that Sanofi will be known to people with diabetes a lot more than the company is currently. Patients may know about Lantus, for example, but they don't really associate Sanofi with it, and I think that's [going to] change quite quickly.
If you look at the coverage we've had on the iBGStar launch this week, it's been very widespread. So, as a kind of consumer brand, that will change quite quickly, but, obviously that doesn't allow us to market our insulins to patients.
Ultimately we are looking to offer more to healthcare professionals and patients. In particular with healthcare professionals, because we're able to offer them devices from meters, pen devices, insulin and support material. We hope that this influences their decision to choose our brands because we offer very good products. So, as a portfolio, it's about being easy to deal with and offering a comprehensive range.
Social media and the development of smartphone apps have emerged as a key area of development in the pharma segment. There is obviously an element of cross-over here, would you agree?
We've got a separate global division that looks at use of technology across the company. But with the iBGStar I think there is a more compelling argument, in the way the meter interacts with the device and uses the screen to present it in a way that's more appealing and useful to people with diabetes and healthcare professionals. It's a very nice marriage of the two and a fairly unique opportunity.
Do you anticipate that this is going to be an area where you would expect to see competition from competing diabetes companies?
It's really hard to judge. I think there will be over time. I'm just very pleased that Sanofi's been the first to get there with such a strong product.