The risky bet behind the first ‘artificial pancreas’ for diabetes patients
Twelve years ago, a dotcom millionaire stood at a patient advocacy group’s board meeting and made an offer.
I’ll give you $1 million, he said. But only if you commit to getting an artificial pancreas on the market.
That challenge set JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, on a costly, and risky, campaign to enlist academic researchers, global companies, members of Congress, and even federal regulators to embrace the concept of a device that could take over much of the process of regulating blood sugar in patients with diabetes.
The campaign worked: The Food and Drug Administration last week approved the first artificial pancreas, from Medtronic, for patients over age 14 with type 1 diabetes.
JDRF’s long crusade mirrors a trend in the patient advocacy world: Such groups are increasingly moving beyond traditional activism to fund research at drug and device companies.
Those close ties with industry have sparked some criticism — mostly out of concern that advocacy groups won’t be able to freely fight for patients if their finances are tied to the fate of a corporate partner. But the expanding model may also help patients, if the advocacy groups succeed in pushing industry to get new treatments to market quicker.
In the case of the artificial pancreas, JDRF was taking a very big chance.
Academics had been trying for years to develop algorithms to power a fully automated system for regulating blood glucose, a task that again and again proved unfeasible. Device makers were squeamish about letting a computer control an insulin delivery system Continue reading