Shacey Petrovic spent nearly a decade trying to convince her diabetic father to switch to an insulin pump, rather than inject himself multiple times each day. But he was wary of the tubing and other challenges that come with constantly wearing a pump.
So when Petrovic was tapped to serve as chief commercial officer at Insulet (NSDQ:PODD) in February 2015, she was eager to tell her dad about the company’s tubeless insulin delivery system, the Omnipod (Petrovic has since been promoted to president & COO of the Billerica, Mass.-based company).
“He said, ‘I absolutely love it’,” Petrovic told Drug Delivery Business News. “I think if I had known about the Pod earlier, I would have been able to get him on to pump therapy much earlier.”
Her dad’s experience of jumping from injections to the Omnipod device is not unique among Insulet’s customers. Nearly 80% of the company’s new users switch directly from multiple daily injections to Insulet’s disposable patch pump, which can deliver three days worth of insulin and is wirelessly controlled by a handheld personal diabetes manager.
“The reason why we haven’t seen more conversion from multiple daily injections to pump therapy, despite the fact that it provides much better outcomes, is because people don’t want to wear a device on their waist that advertises their disease,” Petrovic explained. “The beauty of the pod is that it’s much more discreet and it offers users much more freedom. We’ve been able to help grow the overall pump market with Omnipod, because people who otherwise would not sign up for a pump therapy will with the pod, because it’s a differentiated form factor.”
“Our bias is to go direct.”
Across the company’s three major markets – the U.S., Europe and Canada – Petrovic described product adoption as “extraordinary.” Insulet has grown its Omnipod install base between 20% and 30%, year over year, for the last few quarters.
“We have definitely improved commercial execution and market access, which were two big opportunities for opportunities to grow the business, but we’ve also massively improved product quality, and we have developed incredible operational excellence in terms of being able to manufacture the product at increasing demand while lowering cost and improving reliability and quality of the product,” Petrovic told us.
This year, the company is slated to manufacture approximately 18 million devices, according to Petrovic.
“Our global strategy is to continue to drive adoption and growth across the globe, both through penetration in our current markets, where there’s tremendous opportunity, and also through penetration in new markets,” she said.
As Insulet continues to grow its customer base, the company is also making strategic decisions about its partners abroad. Until this summer, it was working with Ypsomed to sell its Omnipod devices in Europe.
The companies agreed not to renew their partnership in July, after the pair could not agree on extending the contract based on the price set by Insulet, according to Ypsomed.
Insulet plans to assume the distribution, sales and marketing activities for Omnipod across Europe after the contract expires in 2018.
It’s not the first time that Insulet has transitioned from a partnership to directly selling its product in a particular market. Omnipod used to be distributed by GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) in Canada, until Insulet took over in 2015. Petrovic said that it ultimately served as a pilot project, preparing them for the transition in Europe.
Insulet said it plans to remain direct in the U.K., Germany, France and the Netherlands, where the majority of its European business exists. In a few small markets across Europe the company may choose a “very strong partner,” Petrovic said, but for the most part the company wants the accountability and control of being on its own.
“We wanted to be closer to the market to be able to really understand the needs of our customer base there, both our clinicians and our patients, to be able to innovate for Europe and make sure that we were optimizing the business there,” Shacey said. “Our bias is to go direct.
“I believe, and I think it’s been borne out over the past couple years, that we are going to hire the best people and we are going to provide the best level of service and the most commitment to our business,” she told us.
Insulet has big plans in the next five years, including the launch of new technology, and Petrovic said the best way to bring products that users need is to be close to the customers.
“In my experience, you develop and launch products more successfully when you’re connected to the market in that way.”
The next-generation Omnipod
Insulet’s Omnipod product isn’t just used as a delivery vehicle for insulin. Look closely at the myriad of commercials for Amgen‘s (NSDQ:AMGN) Neulasta and you’ll see Insulet’s device being used to deliver the pharma giant’s white blood cell drug.
Today, more than half of all Neulasta doses are delivered using Omnipod.
“This is proof that there are other molecules, besides insulin, that can benefit from the precision, the convenience, the compliance and the control that Omnipod offers,” Petrovic said. “We’ve got a number of discussions and programs and technical feasibility explorations in the pipeline with other pharmaceutical companies, both different kinds of insulin like we have with Lilly, as well as other molecules, like we have with Amgen.”
With potential pharma partnerships looming and a growing customer base, Insulet isn’t sitting still on its platform technology. Next year, it plans to launch its next-generation Omnipod, Dash.
Named as a shorthand for “dashboard” and to imply agility, the product will incorporate Bluetooth communication into the Pod and the personal diabetes manager, according to Petrovic. Bluetooth connectivity joins the Dash device to the cloud and enables Insulet to launch a caregiver-view app so that parents and guardians can keep an eye on ‘Podders’ – Omnipod users.
“We’ve got a really large and fast-growing pediatric base of users, so this is very important to parents and children that use Omnipod to constantly keep track of their kids and how their kids are doing,” she said.
Dash, which was developed with the help of 100 Podders, is in the final stages of human factors testing and the company plans to submit an application to the FDA by the end of the year.
Along with the launch of its Dash product, Insulet is working with Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) to incorporate the pharma company’s concentrated insulin for people with Type II diabetes, who require more insulin that a Type I diabetic.
‘By putting U200 in the pod, it effectively doubles the capacity of the reservoir without changing the form factor of the pod. With U500, it’s five times the concentration of U100, which is the insulin that’s currently used today,” Petrovic said. “Those two products will enable us to actually double our addressable market, and enable us to serve a whole new subset of people living with insulin dependent diabetes and bring the benefits of the pod to them.”
Standing out in the race to make an artificial pancreas
A handful of medtech companies are competing to get ahead in the development of an artificial pancreas, including companies like Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) and Bigfoot Biomedical. But Insulet’s Omnipod Horizon device is different, Petrovic maintained, thanks to the freedom it grants users.
“When you disconnect from your insulin, you’re no longer in automated insulin, or closed loop control, with these artificial pancreas products,” she said. “Every time you shower, every time you want to go for a run, or swim – whatever it is that you do on a daily basis – you’re going to be disconnecting from the system. This is a very different thing from Omnipod Horizon.”
Earlier this year, Insulet touted data for its Omnipod Horizon system, which is still in clinical development, in 24 patients with Type 1 diabetes. Data from the study showed that the Omnipod automated glucose control algorithm performed well, with minimal hypoglycemia, and that it was safe.
“Fundamentally, as it relates to artificial pancreas, or any other innovation that Insulet brings to market, the reason why people choose Omnipod is because it offers them freedom and flexibility and a quality of life that no other insulin delivery system can bring to them,” Petrovic said. “When we think about bringing any type of innovation to market, whether that’s Horizon or Dash, we can’t lose that value proposition of being the easiest-to-use system that offers the largest reduction of burden, as it relates to disease management for diabetes.
“Our goal is to bring more value to our customers, but to ask less of them. That spirit is really important to us. It’s fundamental to our development philosophy and all of the innovation that we’re going to bring to the market.”
Updated to reflect the correct stage of development for Insulet’s Omnipod Horizon system. An earlier version of the article misstated that it would launch next year.