Silicon Valley firm and Abbott Labs team up on system for managing diabetes

When Jeffrey Brewer’s son was 15, the boy nearly lost his life because he took too much insulin.

The diabetic teen took insulin so he could eat a large bag of chips late at night. But about 20 minutes later, he forgot about that first dose and took another. He spent two days in the hospital, his father said.

“It was only by a miracle that my wife woke up at 4 a.m. and checked on him,” said Brewer, president and chief executive of Bigfoot Biomedical Inc. “He would have been dead by 7 a.m.”

Now, Silicon Valley-based Bigfoot and Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories hope to help prevent such problems — and make life easier for millions of people with diabetes — with a new partnership announced Thursday. The cooperative aims to combine several technologies to make it easier for diabetics to monitor their glucose levels and figure out how much insulin to take throughout the day.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

All people with Type 1 diabetes and nearly one-third of those with Type 2 diabetes must inject insulin to manage their glucose levels, according to Bigfoot and Abbott.

Abbott already sells a small sensor that can be worn on the back of the upper arm for 14 days to track blood glucose levels. Unlike other wearable sensors, the device, which is sold in more than 35 countries but not the U.S., does not require patients to prick their fingers for calibration. Diabetics can place a handheld reader near the device to see their glucose levels, trends, patterns and where those levels might be headed.

The system, called the FreeStyle Libre, is under review by the Food and Drug Administration for potential sale in the U.S., according to Abbott.

Abbott announced Thursday that it has entered into an agreement with Bigfoot — based in Milpitas, Calif. — to combine the FreeStyle Libre with a system being developed by Bigfoot.

The Bigfoot system would use glucose data from the sensor to help patients determine how much insulin to use, partly via a smartphone app. Glucose data would be sent to the app, which patients could check to find out how much insulin they should give themselves, or they could use the app to administer the proper amount of insulin via a pump. The system also could use readings from the FreeStyle Libre to automatically administer insulin from a pump.

Brewer’s son, for example, might have gone into the app to administer more insulin from his pump. But the app would have warned him that he already had administered that insulin a few minutes earlier. The app also could potentially alert parents or doctors when a patient’s glucose levels are way out of whack.

And it would do it all without finger pricks.

Bigfoot’s Brewer called the system by which Americans currently monitor their glucose levels “messy, time-consuming and error-laden.” The Bigfoot system, still in development, also has not been approved by the FDA.

Joel Goldsmith, Abbott’s senior director of digital platforms, said the partnership with Bigfoot seemed like a good fit because both Abbott’s and Bigfoot’s systems focus on making diabetes care easier and more convenient for patients.

Brewer said it would be premature to discuss how much the system might cost, but he said Bigfoot anticipates starting U.S. trials in 2018 and hopes to bring the system to market by 2020.

Schencker writes for the Chicago Tribune.

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

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