Sanofi relies on Google to boost its diabetes division
This is not the first partnership of its kind (Novartis, AbbVie), but the alliance between Google and Sanofi is unique because it pursues very different interests. The American and the pharmaceutical company will jointly tackle the market of 387 million diabetics worldwide, with, for the French, the concern to remain competitive.
While the turnover of its diabetes division fell by 3.5% in the first half of 2015, the industrialist achieved a strategic blow. He expects a sharp slowdown in sales after losing the operating patent for the “Lantus”, which is now open to competition. It is in the United States, that Sanofi expects to see its revenues decline in this division. Its total turnover in the pharmacy activity nevertheless continued to grow, at 15.2 billion euros in the first half of 2015.
Sanofi teams observe that one in two patients abandons their treatment in the first year and that afterwards half of them do not obtain satisfactory results.
By allying with Google, Sanofi pursues the objective of improving diabetes control in order to develop Lantus sales.
Sanofi’s objective is therefore mainly financial, in order to treat its diabetes division, which has gone from a cash cow to a problem child.
By signing with Google, Sanofi is committing to real-time blood sugar control, thanks to new devices Google has already worked on. As a first commercial experiment, Sanofi has also positioned itself, with a blood glucose meter that can be connected to the iPhone and with the smartphone application. My Glucocompteur; but nothing about the processing of the diabetes data itself. In the long term, the French will be able to use the billions of Google data in order to better target the populations concerned.
At Sanofi, from transformation to application
With more than 110,000 employees in more than 100 countries, Sanofi is slowly entering the digital field. Since the arrival in April 2015 of Olivier Brandicourt, the managing director from Bayer and Pfizer, wants to orient the group towards a new organization to “consolidate a history of innovative solutions”. In July, Sanofi therefore reorganized into five divisions (General medicine, Emerging markets, Specialty medicine, Cardiovascular, Sanofi Pasteur and Merial), making diabetes a separate entity.
In 2013, in a specialized journal, the group explained how it was converting its teams to digital, in particular by placing a transformation manager in each country. Its transformation also involves the integration of digital in the KPIs in the company, on the launch of a “digital Academy” to recruit talents and find the best ideas. The same year, in the United States, the group launched a competition “Data Design Diabetes” reserved for American scientists and engineers. In Europe, he relies on his collaborative platform “Open R&D” to aggregate university research.
On the services side, the manufacturer is tackling the B2C market with another mobile application launched this year called Nutridial, intended for patients on dialysis.
Sanofi also wants to occupy the debate on the thorny issue of health data security. Joined in 1998 as director of clinical trials at Sanofi, Pierre-Yves Lastic has been, since 2013, “Chief Privacy Officer”.
A strategy that may seem weak compared to what Google has been developing for ten years in the field of health.
Google and health
Carrier of the LRRK2 gene (Parkinson’s disease), Serguei Brin is personally involved in health issues. According to the American media, it even feeds a form of obsession concerning about his well-being, trying his hand at all kinds of experiments.
The passion for health at Google is also present at Larry Page. When the two founders were asked in 2014 if they could imagine Google becoming a healthcare company, they both replied:
(Like Sergei), I am really excited about the possibility of data also to improve health. But I think that’s what Sergey’s saying. It’s so heavily regulated, it’s a difficult area… I do worry, you know, we kind of regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities.
Suffice to say that, unlike Sanofi which seeks to develop a commercial activity, Google is embarking on a real crusade to solve major health problems. For the year 2015, Larry Page estimated that 100,000 lives could be saved through data mining.
Google thus concentrates all its know-how on the subject. In 2014, its investments in the sector increased by 9%, representing more than a third of its total investments, as shown the american press. “Except for a few huge setbacks, we’re going to see even more interesting things in the humanities in 2015,” warned Bill Maris, director of Google Ventures.
On health, Google is casting a wide net. From DNA and genome research with Google Genomics, to cancer research, to wellness with Google Fit App, Google has even chosen to appoint, Andrew Conrad, a biologist to direct the processing of his data from the biomedical division “Google X”.
Development based on partnerships with both startups and industrial groups
This is not the first time that Google has joined forces with pharmaceutical giants. A first partnership was signed in 2014 with the American laboratory AbbVie, through its health subsidiary Calico, specially created ex-nihilo by the firm in 2013. Also in 2014, Google finalized another agreement with the laboratory Novartis to develop lenses of smart contact capable of measuring blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Sanofi is therefore part of this strategy, where each one pursues different objectives. On the one hand, Google’s transhumanist vision, which seeks less to “uberize” the sector, than to materialize a philosophical vision. On the other, a pharmaceutical laboratory which must meet the requirements of profitability.