Digital injections boost quality of life

Text: editorial staff “ceo” Magazine | Images: Markus Bertschi | Magazin: Life & Science – July 2017

Self-administered medical treatment was the vision that inspired the founding of Ypsomed, a global leader in therapeutic injection and infusion systems. And nothing has changed in this regard, despite the scientific progress that has been achieved in the meantime. Ypsomed CEO Simon Michel is convinced: With improved supervision of the self-medication procedure, the efficacy of the treatment can be heightened as well. For that reason, the company is banking on digitisation and cloud-based services.

What comes to mind – let’s say, in three words – when people talk bring up the topic of “life”?

Freedom, family and health. The way I see it, freedom is the most precious commodity. Family, on the other hand, forms the basis for professional and personal success. And good health is a prerequisite for being able to enjoy life in the first place.

Your end users have an especially tough time dealing with the latter. How do you help them?

By making self-treatment a matter of course for them, we improve their quality of life. That applies primarily to diabetics, but also increasingly so for people with other types of diseases. The therapy for all of them should be made just as easy and uncomplicated as brushing your teeth.

How do you achieve that?

We develop products that are not only very easy to use, but also allow no mistakes to be made – plus they should be usable regardless of location and without the help of others. For example, after hospital chemotherapy, many patients are required to inject themselves at home. But because the treatment places a heavy toll on them, they frequently neglect to adhere to the regimen – with the result that they need to be hospitalised again. This shouldn’t be. So if we can simplify and monitor the follow-up procedure, then the efficacy of the therapy will increase markedly.

“Medical technology – even after 50 years of R&D – is still in its infancy, at least when it comes to diabetes.”

How do you address the monitoring aspect?

It takes intelligent products – both in terms of the technology and its actual use. Our injection and infusion systems are easy to understand. That’s why it takes only a short training session instead of an entire day of schooling to come to grips with our insulin pumps. What’s more, several of our products record if, when and how the injections are made. We want to provide that data not just to the users for their own knowledge, but also to their parents and the healthcare system as a whole.

Is it possible to do away entirely with injections?

No, given human physiognomy, that’s not possible. Insulin and many newly developed medications are molecules that are so large they can’t be absorbed in the stomach and therefore simply pass through the gastro-intestinal system without effect.

How has the vision of Ypsomed changed over the years?

Actually, it hasn’t changed. Thirty years ago, my father recognised that the complicated use as well as the imprecision of injections were major hindrances in the successful treatment of diabetes. Insulin pumps simplified the therapy and greatly extended the life expectancy of those affected. Later, injection pens came into being.

Simon Michel (40) has been CEO of medtech company Ypsomed since 1 July 2014. Son of company founder Willy Michel, he came to Ypsomed in 2006 and as of 2008 took over responsibility for the Marketing & Sales division in his capacity as an Executive Committee member. From 2003 to 2006, Michel worked for Orange Communications, where he spearheaded the introduction of the UMTS system. He studied economics at the University of St. Gallen and graduated with a master’s degree in media and telecommunications. Simon Michel is married, the father of two children, and a member of the Solothurn Cantonal Council.

What do you consider to be the greatest health challenges of today?

On one hand, we still know too little about the human biological system. Many diseases cannot be vaccinated against, let alone healed. This applies especially to autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, Morbus Crohn and polyarthritis, to name just a few. Here, only one therapy works. On the other hand, healthcare costs are exploding. So the greatest challenge is to achieve a certain balance between the investments necessary for research and the overall costs involved in medical treatment.

What’s changed over the years in terms of diabetes treatment?

The methods have improved dramatically – in particular, the monitoring of blood sugar levels has become much more precise, and this by means of a mere drop of blood and a test strip. The results allow a calculation to be made of how much insulin needs to be injected. Meanwhile, new technologies have been developed to enable the continuous measurement of blood glucose. However, they do so only after a certain delay, so here, too, there is need for further refinement.

“Given the constantly growing number of diabetics across the globe, demand for our products should increase further.”

Where does science come in, as opposed to medical device engineering?

Science attempts to understand the disease and come up with new forms of therapy. Take the example of Type 2 diabetes: in cases where the pancreas produces too little insulin, today we can delay the start of insulin therapy for a number of years by prescribing a special diet, fitness training and pills that lower blood glucose levels. Other than that, medical technology – even after 50 years of R&D – is still in its infancy, at least when it comes to diabetes.

What is Ypsomed doing about that?

At our facilities, more than 120 engineers devote their every working day to researching and developing new concepts and solutions. Our major thrusts centre on pen systems for diabetics, as well as on so-called autoinjectors for new medications applied in various therapeutic areas. We also aim to achieve a higher degree of automation. To that end, we are designing a way to couple the insulin pump and the blood glucose measurement. The latter reading will then be relayed directly to the pump and trigger an appropriate infusion.

Ypsomed is a leading developer and manufacturer of injection and infusion systems for self-medication. The company came into being upon the split-up in 2003 of Burgdorf-based Disetronic Group. The group’s co-founder and majority shareholder, Willy Michel, sold the Infusion division to Roche, but retained and continued to manage the Injection division as a stand-alone company. In 2004, Ypsomed launched an initial public offering of its shares on SIX Swiss Exchange. For the 2016/2017 fiscal year ending 31 March 2017, the company recorded a pre-tax profit of roughly CHF 55 million on sales of CHF 390 million. In addition to its head­quarters in Burgdorf, Ypsomed has a global network of production sites, subsidiary companies and distribution partners. It employs close to 1,400 workers in 11 countries.

How do you keep pace with market trends so you can translate them into new products?

We’re seated on numerous professional boards, travel extensively and stay in close contact with our customers. This enables us to identify the trends at a very early stage. For example, when I joined the company, we were selling R&D projects reactively – in other words, at the behest of the pharma industry. It then took us as many as four years before we could deliver the new product. Today, we have a revised business model: we now go to the pharma companies and analyse their pipeline. Based on our findings, we’ve already developed more than a dozen injection system platforms that we only have to tweak to the specific requirements when a corresponding request comes in. The entire realisation process lasts only a few months, not to mention that it’s considerably less expensive this way and harbours fewer risks for the customer.

How closely tied are you to the pharma giants?

We’re more than just married – we’re practically joined at the hip, so a divorce is all but out of the question. This by virtue of the fact that when a drug company applies for approval of a new medication, our pen is part and parcel of the dossier. Hence, the device can’t be substituted afterwards. At present, we’re winning seven to eight out of every ten calls for tender. That’s why I’m very confident about the future of our company.

Where will Ypsomed be in ten years’ time?

Given the constantly growing number of diabetics across the globe, demand for our products should increase further. There is also the cloud technology factor, which will contribute greatly to the improvement of therapies. For instance, health insurers or doctors could potentially monitor the success of a treatment and remind their individual policyholders when it’s time for an injection. The exogenous pressures will lead to medical science’s getting a better grip on diabetes.

Will Ypsomed develop its own cloud?

For the insulin pump business, we already offer a mylife cloud and mylife app that are linked with the pump. Cloud services are typically sourced from third parties and adapted for one’s own use. As to our pens, we first have to get the business model squared away and demonstrate to the drug companies that therapy can be improved through use of the additional data. In terms of the cloud, we’re cultivating a new market here, but I’m convinced that within five years we’ll be selling our first products and services in that space.

Barrel elements
Sorting equipment
Assembly line
Injection moulding machines