José Luis López Sánchez-Pascuala, CEO of Insulclock, shares with us his experience as a patient, and how they developed a solution that helps patients around the world
1. Where did the idea of Insulclock come from?
I have got a type 1 diabetic and I have been suffering the disease for more than 20 years, both myself and my little sister. Being a patient, I have an unmet daily need: I can’t cannot always remember if I had already injected my insulin. I realized that I was not the only person with this problem, so I decided to find a solution for this and other problems related to the disease, with the mayor goal of improving my quality-life. I convinced Jesús Arenas, who also has diabetic relatives (so he also knows all these difficulties they have to face) and who has a huge knowledge on engineering, to help me developing a solution and a device.
Jesús and I are the creators of the idea. We gave the first steps to shape and test it among experts on diabetes and endocrinology. Insulclock was born with a clear social aim and nowadays has a team with more than a total of 100 years of experience on 25 projects and 9 startups. All Insulclock members are passionate technology lovers and want to use it to improve the quality life of people.
2. Insulclock was founded in 2014, the product was then launched in June 2018. In healthcare, launching a product can be a long process due to strict laws of procedure. How was your experience from the time you had the idea to produce the first item that could be transferred to the market as a product? And, how has Insulclock’s project changed between the first idea and now?
I go to the doctor every six months. In one of my visits, I told her that I used to forget to inject some insulin doses and I recognized that I didn’t write down in my diabetic diary all parameters that my endocrine needed to prescribe the medication. I was surprised that with all the technological advances that have been appearing throughout the 21st century, there was nothing that could help me managing my illness in a better way. I knew perfectly well that this problem of forgetfulness was shared with many other diabetics around the world, so during the development of the idea I wanted to involve both doctors and diabetes educators and, above all, patients and their caregivers, to develop a real solution to some of the real problems that all of us must face every day.
The initial idea that Jesús and I proposed to develop consisted of a device that hook up to the disposable insulin pens would be able to remind the patients when they had to take their insulin, to identify the type of insulin injected and how much insulin was injected, transferring all this information to the Cloud by means of a mobile application installed on the patient’s smartphone. Step by step, thanks to the work done by the Insulclock team and with the feedback received from the stakeholders who wanted to be involved in the project, the rest of the features that today make up the Insulclock system, were added.
Currently, the Insulclock system does not only track everything that happens with the patient’s disposable insulin pen (including measuring the temperature at which the pen is exposed), but through the application both patient and caregiver can store automatically the physical activity performed, the patient’s blood glucose levels or to add pics of meals to provide more reliable information to the endocrine and diabetes educator, who, thanks to the telemedicine software tool of the Insulclock system, specifically designed for them, they have access to all this information in a structured way, with graphs and in real time.
3. You have mentioned in previous interviews that whilst the product was not ready to be transferred to the market, the team at Insulclock placed a strong emphasis on searching for awards and subsidies from innovative firms. Insulclock has been successful in this aspect, winning many awards and even achieving EU funding through the SME Instrument- Horizon 2020. What do you attribute this success to? What advice do you have for other startups looking for funding, awards and acceleration programs?
Insulclock has a great social impact and a long term sustainable development, which can produce welfare to the global society. I think these are the two pillars to build trust in our project among the institutions, companies or entities who believe in us. I do not usually like to give advice but if there is something that we have learnt during this long path is that startups need to develop real solutions to real problems, being helpful for all stakeholders, and avoiding the ambition of “changing the world”, at least not immediately.
4. Where do you think the digital health sector is headed? What do you expect for the future of the sector? Do you think new technologies have the potential for the eradication or cure of diabetes?
I strongly believe that the cure for the diabetes will come in the future, although today we still have a long way to get it. Meanwhile, technological solutions will help to a better disease management both for doctors, patients and their caregivers, as it is already happening. These technologies will increase medication adherence, not only in diabetes, but also in other chronic diseases. Of course, telemedicine systems will bring patients and their doctors closer, reducing the time of consultations, and they may even end with face-to-face consultations by limiting their need to those critical cases in which more control is needed. And, last but not least, new technologies will increase the quality of life of patients and their caregivers, thanks to the automation of entering and storing all patient information.
5. What has been your experience collaborating with health institutions and big corporations like pharmaceutical companies?
When someone starts an entrepreneurship project it is not common to have a deep knowledge of the sector in which the entrepreneur wants to work; in most cases the entrepreneur’s perspective is limited to the information within their reach or to the information that someone may get thanks to his own concerns, information that, on the other hand, is usually not easily accessible. Working with big corporations and health institutions is giving us a much more detailed view of the problem we are trying to solve and we have detected that, thanks to Insulclock, we can solve other problems that these corporations have and for which they had not found a solution. This has been the greatest benefit: the lesson of talking, talking and talking with all the stakeholders involved and affected, directly or indirectly, benefited or harmed, by our project.
6. What do you personally believe are the benefits of an association like Barcelona Health Hub?
Entrepreneurs find many difficulties along the way to start our projects or to give them continuity and one of them, if not the most complicated, is to put them on the market, since the demands in the health sector are higher than in other sectors, for obvious reasons. In addition, access to investors is not easy as well as identifying that or those types of investors suitable for each specific project.
Barcelona Health Hub, as well as other similar associations, represent an invaluable opportunity to overtake all these and other difficulties that health sector entrepreneurs have to face, as it represents a bridge between the actors involved, from the smallest, like us, to the largest national or supranational entity in the sector.
7. What are some of the biggest challenges that Insulclock had to overcome in its path to growth and internationalization? And, how do you think that being a member of BHH from the beginning could have helped you to overcome some of these challenges?
So far, the biggest difficulties we have faced along the way have had to do, mainly, with economic issues; the development of hardware supposes a great economic and human effort. It would have been impossible to reach this point if we had not had the support of all entrepreneurship awards and public aid. If I have to emphasize something in terms of what has most helped us to move the project forward, it is the great human and professional value of the Insulclock team.
I don’t know if having been members of BHH would have accelerated the development process or not, but it is possible. Any help to carry out a project, such as Insulclock, is necessary and welcomed. At the moment the Hub can add value, since at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2020 we will open our first founding round. At the same time, we are working on the internationalization of the company, reaching, step by step, agreements with distributors in each of the countries in which we want to have presence. In both aspects, we are convinced that BHH will provide us with a very helpful foothold.
8. What are you excited about regarding BHHSummit?
We plan to take full advantage of the BHH Summit. We will perform demos of the Insulclock system to bring our project closer to all visitors so that they can better understand its operation and value proposition. It will be useful for those people who are familiar with the diabetes because they may see the benefits it brings to all people involved in its management, but it will also be useful for people who do not deal with both for doctors and for patients and their caregivers the disease so closely. We will bring them closer to a disease that, although unknown, affects more than 600 million people worldwide.
And we will not only make our first project known, but we will offer information about our company, as there are many R&D projects that we have underway. The company’s DNA is to develop technological solutions to help, as far as possible, all people who suffer from chronic diseases and who must take medication routinely using devices such as pens, inhalers, nebulizers. We will apply Insulclock technology to diseases such as multiple sclerosis, disorders that need growth hormone injections (we have already developed a project that is in TRL7), injectables that treat fertility problems in women or chronic pain, field in which we have already begun to work.
Thank you very much.