JDRF Gives a ‘Tremendous Boost’ to the Artificial Pancreas Project

The continuous glucose sensors of today that will in time lead todevelopment of an artificial pancreas are getting a tremendous boostfrom the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF). Theboost is the organization’s commitment of up to $6.5 milliondollars this year and next.

This puts the JDRF’s money where itsmouth is. Until now, it has focused largely on advocacy efforts inWashington, D.C., and across the country.

The new effort will fund research on two parallel tracks. The pointof the continuous glucose sensing track is to get this technology out tothe people who need it, says Aaron Kowalski, PhD, the JDRF’sstrategic research projects director.

“This could be research that shows the value of glucosesensing, that it improves health outcomes and is worthy of insurerspaying for it,” Kowalski says. “These technologies addvalue.”

The second track will support research leading to an artificialpancreas system that people will use in everyday life. An artificialpancreas depends on three components.

The first component is the insulin pump. The second is thecontinuous sensor. And the third, which looks now to be the mostchallenging, is the algorithm or computer software that connects andcontrols the first two.

One of the JDRF’s goals for their millions in funding is tohelp develop a thriving market.

“The more companies, the more interest in diabetestechnologies leading to an artificial pancreas, the better the ultimateproduct will be,” Kowalski says.

He says there are three frontrunners in continuous sensing. Thefirst is Medtronic Diabetes, which is already selling its Guardian RT.Abbott Diabetes Care has asked the Food and Drug Administration forapproval to sell its FreeStyle Navigator. Likewise, DexCom is nowseeking FDA approval for its STS continuous glucose monitoring system.(Full disclosure: I own stock in DexCom.)

These same companies are also the frontrunners in developing anartificial pancreas. “Medtronic and Abbott have both of thepieces,” Kowalski says. “DexCom, pairing with any insulindelivery system, could easily do that. And that’s their long-termgoal.” Tying continuous sensing to insulin delivery will be a“mega step” forward, Kowalski believes. “We are on thecusp of a revolution in diabetes care.”

The JDRF’s Constituency

How much will people with type 2 diabetes benefit from theJDRF’s efforts? Probably a lot, even though its constituency ispeople with type 1 diabetes.

“The market for type 1s probably won’t drive the kind ofadvances that we want to see,” Kowalski tells me. “With thisexpanded market, there will be more incentives for companies to furtherinvest in improving their technologies.”

One of the key components of the JDRF’s plan is to encouragewide accessibility of technology for all people with diabetes, he says.Not only type 1s. And not only the wealthy.

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