NEHI wants to spur continuous blood glucose monitoring

In the last two decades, self-blood glucose monitors (SBGM) have enabled diabetics to check their own blood sugar levels to keep their disease under control and reduce complications, such as blindness. The more frequent the testing, the better the control, but all the devices on the market require a finger stick to get a blood sample. And that hurts, even if the new devices hurt less than the old ones. As a result, most diabetics don’t test as frequently as they should.

The SBGM business follows a classic “razor and blade” business model, which has been lucrative for market leaders J&J (LifeScan) and Roche Diagnostics (Accu-Chek). The meters are essentially given away, but the test strips are expensive. J&J has been the most successful by focusing on “heavy users” who do a lot of testing –using a lot of strips– once they have a meter. Generic meters and strips have made only small inroads into the market.

According to today’s Boston Globe, The New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI) will release a study today in an attempt to spur rapid approval and adoption of continuous blood glucose monitors, which could provide information on glucose levels all the time rather than only when a blood sample is taken. This would allow better control than current testing methods and be easier to tolerate. The NEHI study focuses on establishing accuracy standards to speed the FDA approval process.

When continuous monitoring becomes common, it could undermine the “razor and blade” business model by ending the need to use a new test strip for every test. On the other hand, manufacturers like that model so much that they may attempt to replicate it by selling high-margin disposable items –such as sensors and filters– along with the devices.

It will be interesting to watch how the current players prepare and respond to the competitive threat.

March 25, 2005

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