Tethys Snags U.S. Air Force Support for Big Diabetes Prevention Study
Tethys Bioscience is making a big bet as a company that it can help prevent people from getting diabetes. Now it has got some critical support to help it prove that idea.
Emeryville, CA-based Tethys is announcing today it has secured a partnership with the U.S. Air Force to see if the company’s PreDx test can help people avoid getting full-blown diabetes that can lead to a range of complications like blindness, heart attacks, and limb amputations. Air Force physicians, led by Lt. Col. Mark True, plan to enroll 600 pre-diabetic patients at six domestic Air Force bases. Half of the patients will get information on their diabetes risk at the beginning of a 12-week study, while the other half won’t. Researchers want to see whether this trial supports the idea that the Tethys test essentially scares patients into really changing their behavior, and improving their diet and exercise habits as a way of staving off diabetes.
The company isn’t disclosing the budget for the study, and isn’t saying when it expects to have results—although the study will require patients be followed for six months. It’s safe to say, though, that if this confirms some of the anecdotal reports that suggest Tethys is helping motivate some patients, then the findings could be a powerful new tool for Tethys, as it seeks to convince insurers that the test’s list price of $585 is justified.
Tethys has had some success already in the marketplace, based on data that says its test can identify who among the nation’s 79 million “pre-diabetics” who are likely to worsen over five years, and join the much riskier group of 25 million people with diabetes. Anything to reduce the number of diabetics could have huge implications for the U.S. health system. The total cost of diabetes in the U.S. is estimated at about $3.4 trillion in the 10 years through 2020, according to UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurer.
Tethys, as I described in a feature earlier this month, has already had some success in its early days, selling about 27,000 of its tests in its first year and a half on the market. Last week, the company said it has sold 35,000 tests, meaning it sold about 8,000 tests in the first two and a half months of this year. We’ll see how big that number can go if Tethys can present hard evidence to insurers that its test changes behavior and can prevent a chronic, expensive ailment like diabetes.