People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin in a similar way their pancreas would produce if it were normal. Older therapy used to be multiple daily injections, which were poor approximation of the insulin need. In Continuous Subcutaneous Insulin Infusion (CSII) or Insulin Pump therapy, a small device delivers a constant stream of rapid-acting insulin through a tiny tube; according to a programmed plan unique to each wearer. Insulin pumps are not automatic but they let patients make immediate adjustments, enabling them to lead a more spontaneous lifestyle.

Companies like Cellnovo represent the key role IT is playing in the evolution of medical devices. UK-based Cellnovo began in 2002 as Starbridge Systems Ltd. to develop a novel micropump with only one moving part that made it smaller, more accurate and less expensive. Somewhere along the line, their conventional medical device transformed into a mobile health offering. It now consists of:

1. Pump: A small, waterproof device that can be easily applied, removed, and repositioned on the body. Also includes a built-in accelerometer that registers and stores user activity data.

2. Handset: A hand-held device that communicates wirelessly to control the pump and sends data to a secure website. User can manage dosage, schedule, log supplemental data like food intake, activities, emotions, etc. through this device. The look-and-feel has been compared to today’s appealing smartphones with icon-driven intuitive graphical display and touch screen ability.

3. Online: Websites customized for various participants that are usually involved in managing diabetes- provider, patient, caregivers, etc. Given the variety of people that can be involved in the care team (primary doctor, dietitian, diabetes nurse educator, eye doctor, foot doctor, endocrinologist, exercise trainer…), communication and coordination is an often under-served part of diabetes management. Seems like Cellnovo Online is an attempt to improve just that.

The overall concept is not new. OmniPod by Insulet Corporation (a public company) has a pump and handset. Big players like Medtronic, Sanofi-Aventis, J&J have shown signs of moving in similar direction. With the February 2011 series B financing round of $48.4 million, Cellnovo also seems to have enough runway in this space. As an interesting aside, combining insulin pumps with Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (CGMS) makes a terrific combo- uninterrupted sensing and coordinated, intelligent drug delivery. OmniPod does this.

Solutions like Cellnovo provide not just a way to deliver therapy, but a novel way to collect detailed data about given patient population. Analyzing aggregate data like that can lead to insights at multiple levels- clinical evidence (EBM), provider performance, population health, etc. An interesting decision fork in this evolution would be whether manufacturers leverage commercial computing hardware like smartphones or create their own (like Cellnovo). The former gives wider reach, while latter provides better, medical-grade control (something that FDA probably mandates).

But the key point in all this is about the future of traditional consumer medical devices. The next-generation devices seem to be less conspicuous, continuously connected, more personalized and come with an integrated online component that becomes the window to interaction with multiple parties (caregivers, friends, insurers…like an evolved, niche form of social networking). The new value proposition doesn’t stop at just a hardware device, but becomes a continuous service for managing chronic disease.

One can argue that managing all chronic diseases requires understanding an ever-changing constellation of information continuously generated by a whole ecosystem of participants. This ever-connected disease management approach that removes the burden of keeping journals and pushes information to healthcare professionals can to be applied to many diseases besides diabetes. I’m sure a number of those are already underway.