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Why Alphabet, Amazon and Apple are all working on diabetes tech

From Christina Farr & Erin Black @

Key Points

  • The largest technology companies are all honing in on diabetes technology as an area of focus.
  • Apple, Amazon and Alphabet are dabbling in the space.
  • To succeed, these companies are partnering with traditional medical device makers, like Dexcom.

For the largest technology companies, there’s an opportunity in health care that’s too big to ignore.

That’s to develop new tools and services for more than 100 million people living with diabetes or at high risk for the disease in the United States.

Today, the process of managing the disease can involve a lot of guesswork. Many people with diabetes, a chronic condition that affects how the body regulates blood sugar, intermittently prick their fingers to test their blood sugar and adjust their insulin dosages accordingly. That’s an imperfect science. Some patients also don’t have access to monitoring tools that show how lifestyle choices, like food and exercise, can impact them.

As a result, tech giants Alphabet, Amazon and Apple are all exploring how they can bring new services and tools to market to help people with diabetes better manage their disease. Don’t miss our video for an overview of those approaches.

These companies are all thinking differently about how they can enter the market:

In an interview, Verily’s chief medical officer Jessica Mega noted that Alphabet has been focused on diabetes for years. including when its health-care projects were primarily part of its Google “X” R&D lab. “If you look at the population in the U.S. and worldwide, we’re talking about an epidemic that is on the rise,” she explained.

These days, Verily has a group called Onduo that is looking into building a software and services layer around the disease. It’s doing things like lifestyle coaching to help people optimize their food and exercise. And it’s got a partnership with Dexcom to make a new continuous glucose monitoring device that is targeted to people with type 2 diabetes.

“Working with bio sensors is core to what we do here,” said Mega. “But we’re also looking at both the information stream coming in, and what it means to wrap around an ecosystem of providing care to patients.”

For Dexcom, maker of continuous glucose monitors, it’s a very good thing that technology companies are entering the space. Dexcom’s CEO Kevin Sayer told us that Dexcom was among the first wave of medical device makers to consider the potential of smartphone technology, and forge partnerships with non-traditional tech players.

He also stressed that these companies will need to work together to succeed.

Dexcom developed one of the “first apps of this nature with a medical device classification to go straight to the phone,” according to Sayer. That meant Dexcom’s customers could check their readings via a smartphone or watch, which is both more convenient and more subtle. It wasn’t an easy process and it required a lot of work with Apple, Sayer explained. “What we learned about going to the phone is there’s a lot we didn’t know.”

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