Calibra, Inspired by Inventor With Diabetes, Homes in on Cheap, Easy Way to Deliver Insulin

1/24/11Follow @xconomy

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through a questionnaire, asking patients which device they preferred. About 76 percent said they wanted the Calibra device, Purvin says.

Purvin also stressed the convenience advantage the Calibra tool has over insulin pumps. “After 12 weeks, we didn’t get one customer service call,” he says. “We made it so simple that nothing screwed up in the study that required anyone to call and say ‘I don’t understand the instructions.’”

Complexity, Purvin says, has been one of the things holding back insulin pumps from true mainstream use. Many doctors don’t want to bother with training patients how to use them, and many patients can’t afford to make co-pays that can run around $1,000. Patients also don’t want to have to stop to think a lot each day about how to manage their pump, Purvin says.

Like most small companies, an 18-person shop like Calibra doesn’t have all the expertise it needs to make this thing fly. Purvin is out trying to raise one more round of capital, and he’s working with an investment bank to see if he can strike a deal with a big company with the sales, marketing, and distribution muscle it would take to maximize such a product aimed at a mass market like diabetes.

Calibra still isn’t done with the engineering, either. It is making one more push to squeeze down its cost of raw materials, which will be critical to establishing the kind of gross profit margin it wants, Purvin says. He says he’s wary of pushing Finesse onto the market too soon, based on what he considers a mistake Insulet made, by launching a new insulin pump before it had done enough to clamp down on the cost of raw materials. “Nobody wants to buy them now because they aren’t profitable,” Purvin says.

Clif Alferness

The last engineering trick has something to do with how the device gets placed on patients. If it works, then Calibra should be able to reach break-even as a company in about 18 months after market launch, Purvin says. Part of the calculus involves reaching out beyond Type 1 diabetics—who really depend on insulin—into the bigger population of Type 2 diabetics, many of whom develop diabetes later in life and don’t tend to get insulin through pumps. Kelly Close, the editor of diatribe.us, a newsletter for diabetes patients, wrote last May that the Calibra device’s potential for Type 2 diabetes could be a “big step” forward.

To Purvin, the impact of a simpler insulin-delivery device will be in better “adherence” to doctors’ instructions to keep blood sugar under control. And more stable blood-sugar levels means fewer long-term complications of diabetes—blindness, heart attacks, strokes, amputations.

“There are, of course, complicated electronic pumps for the small percentage of patients who can afford them and that are willing to learn and keep up with the technology advances and hassles that go with it,” Alferness says. “Calibra is focused on making it easy for millions of diabetics like me.”

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