AHN doctors, patients to have role in diabetic device development

People with diabetes could soon get more help managing the disease, thanks to a $500 million joint venture involving Allegheny Health Network, drugmaker Sanofi and Verily Life Sciences LLC, a unit of Google parent Alphabet.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi partnered with software and miniature electronics company Verily of Mountain View, Calif., to create Cambridge, Mass.-based Onduo, a company that will use new medical devices to help people with diabetes better care for the chronic disease.

Meanwhile, feedback from doctors and patients at Allegheny Health Network’s Premier Medical Associates and Sacramento, Calif.-based medical system Sutter Health will be incorporated into the final design of the devices.

“The purpose is to come up with a way to better self-manage diabetes,” said internist Frank Colangelo, Premier Medical Associates’s chief quality officer, who is leading the collaboration on behalf of AHN. “We do a great job of helping patients with diabetes.”

Monroeville-based Premier, which was formed in 1993, is among the biggest multispecialty medical practices in the region. Highmark owned the practice until 2004, when it was spun off as an independent organization, but re-acquired by the insurer in 2010 as part of Highmark’s plans to develop an integrated medical delivery network.

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by inefficient or inadequate production of insulin. Including lost productivity, the cost of treating diabetes was $245 billion in 2012, up 41 percent from $174 billion in 2007, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Among the biggest hurdles to diabetes management is patient compliance with glucose testing and taking medications, Dr. Colangelo said. “There are a lot of issues, even some psycho-social issues” that can make patients fearful of a diabetes diagnosis and therefore noncompliant with doctor’s advice, he said.

“From monitoring food intake to testing glucose levels to actively seeking medical care, the challenges both on the physical and mental well being of a person living with diabetes are incredibly difficult,” Onduo CEO and emergency medicine physician Joshua Riff said in a prepared statement.

The devices envisioned by Onduo are still in the exploratory stage, so no further information is available, Verily spokeswoman Carolyn Wang said. Sanofi is putting up $248 million as part of the deal and Verily has committed an equal amount in equity capital and resources. A development timeline for the devices was not disclosed.

In Pennsylvania, Bedford, Jefferson and Fayette counties have among the highest rates of diabetes, with rates exceeding 13 percent of the population, according to the state Department of Health.

Amputation of toes and limbs is among the most serious complications of poorly managed diabetes, but Premier, which treats about 6,500 people with the disease, uses internally developed protocols, which have resulted in fewer diabetes-related amputations among its patients.

Data were not immediately available, but in the past 10 years, Dr. Colangelo said he could recall only one patient with a diabetes-related amputation — a toe. “It’s a very rare complication,” he said.

Onduo will focus first on better patient management of Type 2 or adult onset diabetes, which has been increasing because of the obesity epidemic, before moving to Type 1 diabetes and prediabetes.

The collaboration and anticipated medical devices may help tamp down escalating health care costs, Premier CEO Mark DeRubeis said. The Monroeville-based physician practice has about 60,000 active patients, who are seen at offices throughout the eastern suburbs.

“Everybody is trying to reduce health care costs and the number one area to look is diabetes,” Mr. DeRubeis said.