When NovoPen by Novo Nordisk hit the market back in 1985, this first FDA approved insulin pen changed the way millions of people managed their diabetes. As pens have developed over time, “smarter” products have begun appearing. Lilly’s HumaPen Memoir came out in 2007 with a data memory for up to 16 doses. Then came the Timesulin pen cap, aiding users in keeping track of their last injection. Novo Nordisk came out with their Echo pen in 2014 with memory function as well as half-unit dosing, allowing even more control for users.
Technology continues to move at break-neck speed, resulting in significant improvements for the newest generation of insulin pens. Smart pens offer many benefits of an infusion pump without the disadvantages. Far beyond only keeping track of data, smart pens combine the aspects of injector pens, bolus advisors, Bluetooth technology, and smartphone apps.
Smart Pen Benefits
A myriad of benefits come along with the combined technology behind smart pens:
No more manually calculating insulin doses. Smart pens, in conjunction with apps, automatically import glucose readings, calculate recommended dosages, and keep track of insulin dose history to avoid mistakes.
Trying to find a pen and jotting dosages down in a notebook that you may later misplace? Nope. Smart pens track dose history and timing, for many months at a time, using Bluetooth-connected apps. So you don’t’ have to remember.
Because they automatically record dosages and connect through apps, smart pens can be programmed to share vital information with medical professionals, family members, or other caregivers. Visits to the doctor are much easier when dosage records are kept, allowing doctors to have greater insight into medical needs.
When compared to a pump, the smart pen offers all of the benefits with a less shocking price tag. Smart pens are now covered by some major insurers (such as Cigna and United Healthcare) with co-pays as low as $0 and up to a few hundred. Without insurance, smart pens cost around $500.
Current Smart Pens On The Market
Here’s what is currently on offer today in the US:
InPen by Companion Medical
Launching the first Bluetooth-enabled insulin pen on the market just last year, Companion Medical is on the cutting edge. When combined with a health management app on a smartphone, this smart pen:
- Keeps track of dosing information for up to a year
- Makes dosage recommendations
- Displays real time information about active IOB (insulin-on-board)
- Keeps track of expired insulin or storage outside of temperature range
- Reminds user of next dosage time with remote monitoring
- Shares reports with health care providers
- Works with Humalog and Novolog insulin cartridges
- Is currently only available with a prescription
Clipsulin by Diabnext
Created as an add-on, this device plugs into insulin pens and works in conjunction with the Diabnext mobile app. Users pay an up-front fee for the hardware and then a subscription fee to continue using the app. This add-on will:
- Retro-fits to any insulin pen on the market
- Capture up to 200 pieces of dose injection data
- Export data to mobile app
- Analyze data through Diabnext mobile app
- Allow for sharing with medical professional or others
- Not require a special prescription
Other smart pens are available in other parts of the world by various companies who may eventually seek to bring them to the US.
What’s Coming Up
Here’s a taste of what a few companies have in the works for the future of smart pens:
With a mission to make lives healthier, safer, and easier, Bigfoot Biomedical is in the process of developing fully-integrated, highly scalable systems to deliver the benefits of automated insulin delivery to pen users.
Melissa Lee, of Bigfoot, states that the company is preparing for a commercial launch in 2020. “We’re designing our systems to passively collect glucose and insulin information with the intent to then automatically display insulin dosing guidance based on that data,” Lee recently shared.
Bigfoot’s systems are being designed to integrate the FreeStyle Libre glucose sensor from Abbott, a Bluetooth-connected blood glucose meter, and a specialized rapid-acting and long-acting Bluetooth pen cap that can be used with a variety of disposable insulin pens.
The end of 2017 brought an announcement from Lilly that it has an integrated insulin management system in the works, combining a connected insulin pen with technology to sense glucose, along with software that offers dosing recommendations. This would be expected in the next couple of years, depending on FDA approval.
Novo Nordisk and Glooko
Previously cooperating to produce a special app for insulin pen users (C4C), the two companies now seem to be in cahoots in releasing a smart pen to the US market. Having already launched in Europe, the answer to when a smart pen might be approved by the FDA is unclear, but it’s certainly worth watching for.
As the smart pen market continues to grow, it is expected to reach more $130 million in the next five years. Proving that keeping track of insulin levels is no small potatoes. And deciding how much insulin you’ll need if you eat those potatoes? Well, that decision can be made with the help of your smart insulin pen.