The Big Interview – Roche Diabetes Care’s Marcel Gmünder
The Diabetes Times Editor Oliver Jelley spoke with the Global Head of Roche Diabetes Care, Marcel Gmünder over a video call at the end of last year for this exclusive interview.
Among the topics discussed, Marcel talked about his vision for integrated Personalised Diabetes Management, how the company has supported people with diabetes during 2020 and exciting plans for the future including the launch of the new Accu-Chek Instant system.
What is your personal biggest achievement in the diabetes space?
Our biggest achievement, and I would say this also concerns me as a person, is that we can look back on 40 years of offering diabetes management devices and solutions. We were the pioneers in diabetes blood glucose monitoring when we launched our first meter in 1974, enabling people with diabetes for the very first time to take control of their diabetes, and I am really proud of our role in this. Since then, technology has undergone huge improvements and we are planning on continuing to innovate in this space and to contribute to this field.
I am proud to say that we are still committed to our core business and we are number one in the blood glucose monitoring market. To this day we offer a portfolio of various blood glucose monitoring systems that help people around the world in their daily diabetes routine. This offer is vital, especially for people with type 2 diabetes and for people in countries with more resource constraints and limited access to Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems.
We know that diabetes management is a complex and personal challenge and achieving therapy goals is really difficult, that is why we think a patient-centred approach is needed to select the right therapy in a timely manner to help motivate and empower people with diabetes to stay engaged with their self-management. We call this strategy integrated Personalised Diabetes Management (iPDM).
To pursue iPDM we have established an open ecosystem that enables improved interaction between people with diabetes, care teams and physicians. Our aim is to seamlessly integrate and connect people with diabetes, caregivers and healthcare professionals. That is really important for our vision to bring true relief.
We have several building blocks to enable this. First of all, we have our mySugr app, which is the interface to the patient. The second part is the healthcare professional platform, the RocheDiabetes Care platform (RDCP). This is the cornerstone of how our products connect, alongside our hardware devices, such as our connected Accu-Chek meters and our insulin delivery systems. This is our starting point, an open ecosystem that we offer people with diabetes and healthcare professionals.
What does the future of diabetes care in the UK look like?
We want to ensure that each person with diabetes is supported to manage their condition at every stage of their journey through enabling personalised diabetes management.
We believe that as a company we should be enabling the appropriate delivery of the fundamentals of diabetes prevention, management and care.
We aim to bring both digital solutions and personalised diabetes management solutions to healthcare professionals and to people with diabetes. For this to happen, cooperation with the NHS is valuable and crucial. All of our products and solutions are developed with NHS pathways in mind.
One of our biggest aims for the UK is to encourage the use of proven digital apps and digital solutions that can provide personalised data to the patient, to healthcare professionals and to the system in order to enable effective monitoring at all levels through effective digital reimbursement. Digital reimbursement is important because it allows for wider adoption and ultimately cost-effective use of the available funds.
We would like the UK government to play a role in establishing a set of national standards on the need for an open ecosystem and interoperability between individual technologies, partners etc. It is crucial to do that and to integrate as many diabetes technologies as possible, including automated insulin delivery.
Talk us through a typical day in your role
My typical day has changed significantly in 2020 compared to 2019 since the pandemic and the lockdown has happened. In the past I spent a lot of time commuting, travelling around the world, to meet teams, customers and patients, looking at taking decisions, discussing campaigns, discussing budgets and things like that.
As much of this as possible was face-to-face in order to get a better view on what is happening in various parts of the world, which was rewarding for me. But it was also time consuming and came with a certain level of stress.
With the ongoing restrictions that came with the lockdown and moving to home working, my typical day has significantly changed.
Firstly, I have been sleeping in my own bed since the beginning of March. Secondly, I spend my days sitting in front of a computer and my world has become, as they say, tiled. I am participating in remote meetings, interacting with as many people as possible virtually on a regular basis. The advantage of this is that as I spend less time travelling, I am actually connecting with more people on a regular basis than I have been able to do so in the past.
There is a lot you can do via a video conference in a virtual environment. It is made easier if you already know those you are connecting with, but to get to know new people is more difficult and that has an impact on my normal life and my normal working day.
On a positive note, I have met new people online, but it isn’t quite the same, and I am looking forward to being able to interact more in the real world.
What do you do in your spare time?
I am a politically interested person, so in my spare time I have a few mandates going on in my local community. I serve on a few charity boards and some political mandates in the community. I also like to spend time outdoors, so I like hiking in summer, skiing in winter and I always like to spend time in my garden. It has been one of the benefits of 2020, that I saw my garden develop from spring into autumn and was able to harvest my own vegetables.
How would you reflect back on 2020 for people with diabetes?
2020 was an exceptional and challenging year for everybody, but I believe that for people with diabetes and any chronic condition, 2020 has been exceptionally challenging.
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed real additional challenges for the nearly half a billion people living with diabetes worldwide. Social distancing, greater restrictions on movement during the lockdown, limited access to healthcare and healthcare institutions and also the concern of visiting those institutions has had a great impact on people with diabetes and how they have managed their condition.
In some people this has led to issues such as mental health issues, loneliness, depression and anxiety.
In this environment healthcare systems, industry partners and industry players have really played an excellent role in continuing to provide support for people with diabetes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is a growing need for technology to support diabetes management. It is becoming more important than ever for people with diabetes to be supported in their self-management and to connect with their care teams remotely, where possible.
What changes has Roche Diabetes Care seen in 2020?
The pandemic has forced us, like everybody else, to adapt quickly, to keep pace with this rapidly evolving situation. Care and services for people with diabetes have seen a significant shift and with the swift adoption of technology and remote consultations becoming the default where appropriate, we and many others together have been able to continue the support that is needed.
We have seen the availability of digital tools such as apps to enable people with diabetes to effectively self-manage their condition and to share data with their healthcare professionals, care teams etc. That can really help to remove some of the diabetes management restrictions that came from the pandemic. It has also helped, quite frankly, to give healthcare professionals more time because they were also very much occupied by the consequences of the pandemic and therefore to free up resources by making diabetes management more effective is an important part of this pandemic for us.
Diabetes is well suited to remote care and our goal is to seamlessly connect healthcare professionals and people with diabetes, that’s important. We have been able to facilitate this shift with our strategy of integrated Personalised Diabetes Management (iPDM).
How do you enable integrated Personalised Diabetes Management (iPDM) in the UK?
In the UK we have adapted quickly to the changing environment and the changing market needs. In 2020 we enhanced our product portfolio significantly with digital solutions to enable remote monitoring and consultations.
The RDCP pilots began in the UK at the end of 2020. This platform enables healthcare professionals to manage multiple patients within a single digital solution. It brings together diabetes-relevant data from more than 140 diabetes management devices and solutions and turns those data points into meaningful and actionable insights. That is a huge factor in the quality of care that healthcare professionals can bring to their patients.
The quick and easy visualisation helps healthcare professionals to discover patterns and draws attention to areas that need therapy or behaviour changes, contributing to better management and control for the person with diabetes.
We are now listening to the feedback of healthcare professionals to continue to evolve this important tool. We really value the feedback of healthcare professionals especially from the UK in order to develop a product which is going to fill and to meet the needs of these healthcare professionals.
How have you supported people with diabetes throughout the pandemic?
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, we needed to think quickly about how to support people with diabetes in the right way. Being aware of how important it is to stay at home, one of the things we did was to extend pump warranties so that people with diabetes could continue using their pump in the safety of their home.
We also helped people with diabetes to start their insulin pump remotely with virtual pump starts over video calls for those beginning on pump therapy.
Our patient app, mySugr, which launched in 2012, has been an important part of daily diabetes management for many people with diabetes. So we decided to push forward and really create the full ecosystem with the mySugr app integration with the RDCP.
Furthermore, during the pandemic in an effort to enable broader self-support for people with diabetes worldwide we decided to provide free access to the mySugr Pro version in various countries around the world including the UK. We hope this offer helped to improve the experience of digital or telephone appointments by better connecting patients to their healthcare professional.
The mySugr Pro version allows users to easily create, and digitally share, detailed PDF reports of their diabetes-related data and estimated HbA1c. They can share the reports with their healthcare team, and it helps the healthcare professional to better recognise patterns and to individualise guidance even at a distance.
What future innovations is Roche bringing to the UK in the BGM space?
I am really happy to announce that we will launch our new blood glucose system, the Accu-Chek® Instant system in the UK early in 2021. We designed this system to make diabetes management even simpler. It allows people with diabetes to test quickly, easily and more accurately than before. The Accu-Chek Instant will be integrated into our open ecosystems.
All blood glucose values can be transferred wirelessly and automatically to the mySugr app and then from there to the RDCP, allowing the healthcare professional to have access to these data. This wireless transfer eliminates the need for transmission via computers and cables and the task of downloading data, which makes the transfer easier.
This is really crucial as a basis to generate data and have this open ecosystem. Bringing data together and setting it into context helps both people with diabetes and healthcare professionals to make better treatment decisions and better choices and to match therapy goals in a better way.
We hope that with this we are making our contribution to better self-management and better quality of healthcare-patient interactions.
As people adjust to the new normal. How do you envision the future of diabetes care?
I think the pandemic has shown us and has actually accelerated a development that we had seen before. One of the learnings from the pandemic is that high-quality care can be delivered remotely. We were forced to deliver much more care remotely than we had done in the past, and we have demonstrated that we can do that, we can deliver high-quality care remotely.
We believe, and I am personally convinced, that physical visits are important and should never disappear. As I mentioned earlier, part of human interaction is not only data based but there is a personal element that is important, and therefore physical visits will and should never go away.
My wish, and our belief at Roche Diabetes Care, is that virtual touch points, digital touch points, can play an important role in the daily diabetes management and thus, we hope, that they will stay. I think a video call or being able to chat quickly with healthcare professionals is a great option in-between appointments, perhaps to clarify something or ask a question. The availability of digital touch points is something that we think is going to play an important role in the daily management of people with diabetes going forward.
With all innovation and digital solutions, we should also keep in mind that the offer of reliable blood glucose monitoring systems still helps the majority of people with diabetes to manage their diabetes. These systems will remain important in diabetes care.
Ultimately, everything we do should reduce the burden of diabetes management, so that people living with diabetes can experience true relief and this is our core belief and vision for the future. We are innovating on a variety of axes in order to really deliver that to people with diabetes worldwide, including in the UK.