Martin Luther King Jr. said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The same can be said about the measure of a medical device and diagnostics company.
This year, one company stood out from the rest not just because of its accomplishments and impact on patient care, but because of the leadership it showed in spite of the obstacles it faced along the way.
Abbott didn't exactly have it easy in 2017. The company started out the year going toe-to-toe with Alere over a deal that seemed destined to fail. Abbott finally closed that acquisition in early October, allowing the company to move past the drama that plagued that relationship for much of 2016 and 2017.
Analysts were particularly concerned earlier this year about projected product launches out of the company's Sylmar, CA, facility (formerly run by St. Jude Medical), which was the center of an FDA investigation. Many wondered whether the agency's investigation would delay certain product approvals, such as the Full MagLev HeartMate 3 device.
"But we stuck to our guns on what our projections were," CEO Miles White said during Abbott's third-quarter earnings call in October. "The third quarter alone has been pretty gratifying in that we basically got every approval we forecasted within 30 days or so of when we forecasted it would happen."
The company launched more than 20 new products this year, including several in the third quarter.
In Diabetes Care, Abbott Crushed It
Among the most noteworthy of those approvals was that of the FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring system as a replacement for blood glucose monitoring for adults with diabetes.
“We’re continually shaping the company to stay current and relevant," White told MD+DI via email this week in response to interview questions. "A big part of that is a strong product pipeline. We’re seeing some major contributions from new products, like FreeStyle Libre.”
The FreeStyle Libre approval was a major win for Americans with diabetes because it eliminates routine finger sticks, which have been the standard of glucose testing for more than 40 years. The blood glucose monitoring replacement indication, which came much earlier than most analysts had expected, allows patients and their doctors to make treatment decisions based on information from the FreeStyle Libre system, without the finger sticks. The approval of this indication came much earlier than most analysts expected.
“People with diabetes told us the biggest barrier to checking their glucose levels was the painful finger sticks," Robert Ford, Abbott's executive vice president of medical devices, told MD+DI. "FreeStyle Libre eliminates routine finger sticks and we’ve seen an increase in the number of times a day that people check their glucose levels with some better outcomes.”
Another big win came in July when Bigfoot Biomedical chose Abbott over DexCom as the technology partner for its initial launch. Bigfoot was also a finalist for MD+DI's Medtech Company of the Year, in part because the startup is taking on heavyweights like Medtronic and Tandem Diabetes in the race to develop an artificial pancreas for patients with type 1 diabetes. Bigfoot's approach involves cobbling together a closed-loop solution using its own algorithms and software combined with other companies' hardware.
"Our partnership with Bigfoot Biomedical brings together FreeStyle Libre glucose sensing technology with Bigfoot's insulin delivery solutions to develop new systems that will free people from the burden—and pain—of traditional diabetes care," Ford said.
Testing the Limits
One significant accomplishment that was perhaps overshadowed a bit by Abbott's other news this year was the European launch of the company's Alinity systems for the core laboratory. The company expects to bring those systems to the U.S. market next year.
The Alinity portfolio of testing instruments is expected to offer more efficiency, flexibility, and confidence to health systems and better enable doctors and nurses to get the results they need to improve decision-making and patient care. The systems are supported by Abbott's AlinIQ, a combination services and informatics solution designed to assist labs in achieving greater operational productivity with their existing resources.
"Healthcare systems around the world are under pressure, and they’re looking to us for solutions," Brian Blaser, Abbott's executive vice president of diagnostics products, told MD+DI. "In developing Alinity, our new family of diagnostics systems, we spent countless hours with our customers to design instruments that help them take lab testing and patient care to the next level.”
All of Abbott's 2017 accomplishments, especially its recent product launches, give the company strong momentum going into 2018.