TREND Health care: Tech giants with solutions for diabetes

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The medical and pharmaceutical industry is no longer alone in the fight against common illnesses such as diabetes. Apple, Google and Co. have now got involved.

In many cases, “sticking to what you know” is good advice. Although many companies follow this policy, large technological corporations such as Google and Apple are always on the lookout for new, lucrative lines of business. The huge health care market is without doubt one example. The reasons for this are well known. Demographic change with increasing levels of chronic illnesses such as diabetes is high up on the list. More than 400 million people around the world and an estimated 7.5 million people in Germany are affected by diabetes. And another 300,000 people are diagnosed each year.

The need for better, straightforward methods of treatment is growing and medical technology plays a key role here. After all, those affected must measure their blood sugar level several times a day and then administer the correct dose of insulin. Nowadays, modern technology is making it easier to cope with this chronic illness. For the future, however, diabetics are pinning their hopes on support from outside the health care sector.

After all, the multi-billionaires from Silicon Valley are now in on the action. The market is huge. Anyone involved in health care is one of the “good guys” and there could even be some data produced as a result. It is definitely a blessing for diabetics. After all, Apple, Google and the like do not do things by halves.

Health care needs partnerships

Health care Google Smart Lens
The “smart” contact lens from Google and Novartis will probably not be available in the immediate future. (Image: Google).

At the end of last year, the Google parent company Alphabet entered into a joint venture with the French pharmaceuticals manufacturer Sanofi with a view to making life easier for type 2 diabetics. These people account for 90 percent of all diabetics. Around $500 million will now be invested in the “Onduo” joint company in order to develop devices which automatically administer the correct amount of insulin.

At around the same time, the Alphabet subsidiary Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) together with the British pharmaceuticals group GlaxoSmithKline established the company Galvani Bioelectronics in order to carry out research into tiny bio-electronic probes which, by influencing nerve signals, could one day be used to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and asthma. However, the first products are not expected to be approved before 2023.

Since 2014, Google has been working with the Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis on a contact lens which could be used to measure blood sugar values via tears. At the time, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez assumed that the product would be ready for the market in five years. However, the clinical studies on human beings that were planned for last year have been postponed until further notice. And this year, Jimenez further dampened expectations. He does not expect “incredible” progress to be made in the next three to four years.

Measuring blood sugar without a prick

Apple too is now looking to get involved with medical technology in a big way. According to the US broadcaster CNBC, a team of around 30 scientists recently began working on a top secret project looking at treatment methods for diabetes patients. The aim is to develop sensors for the smartwatch which monitor a patient’s blood sugar level non-invasively on a permanent basis. The company has not released details as to how exactly this will work. However, usually well-informed sources are assuming that the watch strap will be equipped with optical sensors and that values will be determined via light measurements. Apple already has patents for a strap made up of a number of segments with integrated sensors. If the group based in Cupertino should achieve a breakthrough with this technology, it will certainly provide a significant boost for smartwatch sales. Incidentally, Apple has sold a “pricking” diabetes measuring device called One Drop since the beginning of the year. After the data are evaluated, they are sent via Bluetooth to an iPhone or iPad where they are prepared and displayed graphically by an app.

Samsung against diabetes mellitus

The technological giant Samsung has also discovered diabetes as a potential area of activity. For a few years now, the Korean conglomerate has been attempting to enter the medical technology market via X-ray/ultrasound systems and in-vitro diagnostics. A type of intensive care ward on a person’s wrist which monitors a wide range of vital data and forwards them to doctors if necessary is already in the pipeline. A low-cost solution for detecting diabetes mellitus – the early form of the metabolic disorder – was announced recently. “Tizen Check” requires a blood sample on a strip in order to determine the blood sugar level with the help of the camera and the LED flash.

There is no lack of ideas and plenty of money is available. Everyday life for diabetics could therefore become even easier. If not tomorrow then hopefully at some point soon. Until then, “prevention is better than cure.” This means a healthy diet and plenty of exercise!

Health care (Image: pixabay/Paul Hunt).

The multi-billionaires from Silicon Valley are now in on the action. (Image: pixabay/Paul Hunt).