Novo Nordisk, Flex expand their partnership beyond connected insulin pens

Novo Nordisk has tapped Flex Digital Health’s internet-of-things platform to create new digital tools for people with diabetes. The duo previously teamed up on connected insulin pens, two of which are slated to launch early next year. 

Their existing partnership focuses on building connectivity into devices, such as nonconnected insulin pens, so that patients and physicians can see exactly which insulin a patient takes, at what dose and when the patient administered it. 

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“We believe, at Flex and Novo Nordisk, that by making sure that data can be integrated into the smartphone, we can alleviate some of the burden on patients with diabetes,” said Anders Dyhr Toft, corporate vice president of Commercial Innovation at Novo Nordisk. The NovoPen 6 and NovoPen Echo Plus will launch in its first markets in early 2019, Toft said. 

Now, Novo Nordisk will be using Flex’s BrightInsight platform to create new “digital solutions” for people with diabetes. The internet-of-things platform isn’t designed for any specific disease, said Kal Patel, M.D., Flex’s SVP of Digital Health. Built for medical-grade use, it allows companies to develop and host digital health devices, apps and algorithms, while keeping on top of privacy, security and regulatory requirements across the globe, Patel said. 

Such requirements often hold up companies’ efforts to scale their digital offerings across countries, Patel said. 

“Privacy and regulatory requirements change from the U.S. to Canada to the EU to Japan. With BrightInsight, one of the reasons Novo Nordisk picked us, we take care of that piece so they can focus on making solutions and scale to markets they think will benefit from this.” 

Novo Nordisk isn’t the first big diabetes drug maker to make a push into the device space. Last November, Eli Lilly revealed that it had been quietly working on an automated, wearable insulin delivery device and smart pen injector at a lab it opened in 2015. 

As Enrique Conterno, head of Lilly’s diabetes business, put it, failing to diversify beyond insulin and into drug delivery systems would lead to Lilly’s diabetes business becoming “obsolete.” 

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“Do we want to be just an insulin provider that just goes into a system, or do we want to be the integrator of the system?” he told The Wall Street Journal at the time. “To me, it’s clear where the business is going.” 

Novo Nordisk also believes it’s not enough to just supply medicines to diabetics. 

“[As] the world’s biggest diabetes care company, we think it’s our obligation to make sure people in the future have connected devices and potentially front-end solutions so they can use insulin better,” Toft said. “[These tools] can help patients get to the right dose faster and alleviate some of their data burden.”