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Qualcomm, Medtronic Tackle Type 2 Diabetes

Medtronic has joined with Qualcomm Life Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc., to bring Qualcomm’s wireless technology to Medtronic’s diabetes devices — even though a competing technology may beat them to market.

The two industry giants have entered into a global, multiyear contract to develop Medtronic Diabetes’ continuous glucose monitoring systems, which check blood sugar levels by inserting a tiny electrode under the skin that sends the information to a display device.

The new system will be specifically geared toward patients with type 2 diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014 with most cases being type 2.

Continuous glucose monitoring or CGM systems are mostly used by type 1 diabetes patients; the new device is aimed at capturing the larger type 2 diabetes demographic.

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The two companies seem well-equipped to tackle the global diabetes epidemic. Qualcomm makes integrated circuits for voice and data communications, and has a market capitalization of $79 billion.

Medtronic is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, but its diabetes division is in Northridge. The company has a market cap of $118 billion.

The companies hope to incorporate Qualcomm’s wireless technology to create a new monitoring system that’s smaller, cheaper and disposable, thus making it more consumer-friendly.

Monitoring: The Competition

However, this is not the first partnership aimed at developing a smaller, less-expensive glucose system with high-tech analytics. In August, medical device developer DexCom Inc. of San Diego partnered with Verily Life Sciences of Mountain View — a biotech research firm owned by Google Inc.’s parent company Alphabet Inc. — to develop a wireless system for all diabetes markets. Some goals of the deal include making the sensor bandage-sized and connecting it to the cloud. The companies have scheduled the release of its first product for some time in 2018 and the second launch by 2021. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

Medtronic and Qualcomm also hope to crank out their first model in the next two to three years, according to Laura Stoltenberg, vice president and general manager of Medtronic’s nonintensive diabetes therapies.

“The vast majority of people with type 2 diabetes are treated by general practitioners, and our focus is to deliver more affordable, easier-to-use CGM systems with a new sensor and smaller design that can provide both near real-time and retrospective glucose data,” Stoltenberg said. “We aim to deliver a device that is lower cost and single-use and specifically designed to meet the needs of people with type 2 diabetes.”

Currently, Medtronic Diabetes offers two types of glucose systems — a real-time system for patients with insulin pumps and one that collects historical data for the patient’s doctor.

Laura Stoltenberg

The company’s patient model pairs the monitor with an insulin pump so the devices work in conjunction, automatically delivering insulin when necessary. It also allows the patient to select a maximum glucose amount using the pump’s settings menu. When the pump reaches that threshold, it will cease insulin delivery for up to two hours. The patient can override the limit at any time.

The physician model, or iPro2 Professional system, is not used with an insulin pump and records the patient’s glucose levels every five minutes for a continuous 72 hours. After the three-day period is over, the patient returns the device to his or her doctor’s office for analysis. This allows the physician to understand the patient’s glucose patterns and improve treatment.

“Medtronic’s current system is a durable device, which is used on multiple patients and requires a direct computer connection to upload data,” Stoltenberg said. “With Qualcomm Life, we are jointly developing a future professional CGM system that is specifically designed for use by general practitioners with their type 2 diabetes patients.”

The new monitoring system will transmit glucose data directly from the device to the patient’s doctor office and will allow the patient to see results in real-time as opposed to waiting for a doctor assessment as with the iPro2.

To achieve this, Medtronic will use Qualcomm’s 2net Design program, a platform used to design the communications components of connected medical devices. The design platform provides end-to-end connectivity while complying with regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Internet of Things

“Health care is an emerging segment for Qualcomm,” said Rick Valencia,

Rick Valencia

president and general manager of Qualcomm Life. “As our wireless technologies continue to power a growing ecosystem of medical devices, sensors and apps, we see a great opportunity to enable the ‘Internet of medical things’ and ultimately power intelligent care for patients and providers, wherever they are. The collaboration with other industry leaders, like Medtronic, support Qualcomm Life’s strategy and vision and expands the reach of the ‘Internet of medical things.’”

The “Internet of Things” is a technology concept in which devices, rather than people, use the internet to communicate with each other, allowing greater automation than currently possible.

For example, if your alarm clock were connected to the internet, when it sounded in the morning, it could start your coffeemaker, open your blinds and recount the morning news stories you’re interested in.

Medtronic and Qualcomm’s planned monitoring system is an early example of the Internet of Things in medicine, with the monitor, insulin pump and analytical computer in the doctor’s office talking to each other. Of course, the patient will be able see data in real time also. Other medical devices, such as wireless pacemakers, and more general devices, like predictive maintenance sensors on a car, are becoming more interconnected, further expanding the Internet of things.

“Analysts predict that in the next several years, billions of devices will be connected,” said Marc Pegulu, vice president and general manager of Camarillo-based semiconductor manufacturer Semtech Corp.’s Wireless and Sensing Product Group. “This will help streamline day-to-day processes, such as metering, as well as enable improved productivity and capability, such as asset tracking, natural disaster monitors and more.”

Preventing Breaches

Security is a crucial challenge when developing wireless capability for medical devices. In 2011, former International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) threat analyst Jay Radcliffe hacked into his MiniMed insulin pump, which was made by Medtronic, and was able to manipulate the insulin amount delivered. The stunt prompted concern that criminals could hack into pacemakers or other devices to commit extortion or homicide.

Since then, Medtronic and other medical-device developers have incorporated more sophisticated encryption and security to protect patients and devices. Moreover, by teaming up with tech companies, like Qualcomm, device manufacturers hope to stay on the cutting edge of technology, further reducing the chances of a security breach.

Medtronic said it will continue to pursue strategic partnerships like the Qualcomm deal to build its network of devices. Earlier this year, the company and computer technology company IBM of Armonk, N.Y. developed an app using predictive technology from IBM’s supercomputer Watson and data from Medtronic insulin pumps and monitoring systems. Through the app, Watson analyzes the data and is able to predict changes in blood sugar up to three hours before a low-sugar episode.

“Our vision to transform diabetes care means we are bringing together an entire ecosystem of partners to solve the challenges of diabetes management,” said Medtronic’s Stoltenberg. “We aim to deliver more than just devices and are focused on delivering intelligent solutions that improve outcomes while lowering the overall cost of care. This takes collaborating with leading innovators such as Qualcomm Life and IBM Watson, health care providers, payers and the diabetes community.”

Stephanie Henkel is a reporter with the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

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