When Yogen Dalal, Sundeep Madra, and Chamath Palihapitiya founded Glooko, the diabetes management tool company, in June 2010, they had a clear goal: to liberate all the data measured by blood glucose meters. Diabetics relied on the devices to keep their insulin levels regulated, but beyond single readings, they weren’t of much use. They didn’t offer any kind of comprehensive data analysis. “We talk about Quantified Self a lot,” says Glooko CEO Rick Altinger , “ but diabetes is the poster child for it. It’s about tracking all this data to understand how the body is affected by food and exercise.”
With diabetes on the rise, the need seemed greater than ever. There are currently 24 million Americans living with the disease, and the numbers are growing by 6 percent every year. “Do the math. Next year there are going to be a million more,” Altinger says. “In the U.S., we spend about $245 billion a year on diabetes. About $180 billion of that is directly related to health care costs, on the order of $500 million dollars a day. The numbers are staggering.” The global figures are even more overwhelming: By 2030, there will be 550 million diabetics on the planet—somewhere around one in every 10 people.
The issue was particularly important to Dalal, who had been diagnosed with prediabetes, but all three cofounders were of Indian descent, and the rate of diabetes was particularly high among South Asians. They wanted to provide tools to make it easier for diabetics to manage their health.
To give patients the ability track their data, they needed a way to get it out of their blood glucose meters. So the three founders worked to create a universal cord that would fit many different makes of meters, and a mobile dashboard that would keep track of all that data in an organized, comprehensive way. The Glooko MeterSync Cable allows users to download data from 17 FDA-approved meters (as well as two more available abroad) directly to their smartphones. The accompanying app makes it possible to annotate, monitor, and share data with doctors. Users can even give access to a whole team of health care providers, including nurses, primary care physicians, endocrinologists, and diabetes educators.
The app also can help educate patients. All healthcare advice comes from caregivers, not from the app, but the app does show patients their glucose levels over time, and teaches them about other data like food. The restaurant menu database can tell a user how many carbs are in Subway’s 12-inch meatball sub, and keep track of what a user eats in a food log. Users can also keep tabs on medication—either oral or injected—as well as activities and exercise, and they can make notes about how they feel at a given time.
Getting the cord and app approved by the FDA was an arduous process. Though Glooko never set out to make meters, FDA rules say that anything that attaches to a device must go through a “Class II” clearance process. “The FDA requires us to do vigorous validation testing to make sure it works, and [that the device is] pulling data out and not altering the data or doing damage to the meter. They’re very tight on that.” The FDA also requires vigorous usability testing with patients to prove that they understand the view of the data as Glooko presents it. It’s a long process that cost the company more than a million dollars, and required them to hand in a 16 inch stack of paper reports, as well as a copy of all the documents on a CD.
“Originally I thought it burdensome, but now that I see patients regularly using the product, you don’t want three guys in a garage developing a product and throwing it out there,” Altinger says. “You have to have a quality product, and make sure what you deliver is what you say you deliver.”
The FDA approved the system in December of 2012, and a more updated version was released in June. The company is currently working to get FDA clearance for an Android version, and Altinger believes it will get through the process in a couple of months.
Even though FDA approval was an exhaustive process, it wasn’t the most difficult part of bringing the device and app to market. The first was creating a complicated cable that could work with multiple devices, but also stay at a low price point of $39. “The other was really getting the end to end system to work in a fail safe manner,” Altinger says. A user who connects a glucose meter to an iPhone needs to be able to see that data on an iPad without duplication. Readings taken while a device is in airplane mode still need to update once wi-fi is available. And so on.
Glooko isn’t the only company in the space, and its most direct competitor is Telcare, a company that created a $149 wireless glucose meter. But Altinger contends that $149 is a fairly steep price to pay for a meter, particularly when other companies like Walmart have started selling lower-priced options.
So far, Glooko has raised $4.5 million, from investors including Vint Cerf, Andy Hertzfeld, Judy Estrin, and the Social + Capital Partnership, founded by ex-Facebooker Palihapitiya. They’ve also added 20 new employees.
Soon, the company plans to release a new Bluetooth low energy version of the system that will connect to meters and allow automatic syncing with smartphones. That way, if users don’t want to take their phones or tablets out of their pocket, it will communicate with the device attached to meter.
For now Glooko is focusing on meters, but eventually the company plans to support insulin pumps as well.
“It’s incredibly hard to manage all the different data,” Altinger says. “We’re all about making it easier to share with loved ones and care team.”