How Omnipod Simplifies Life with Type 2 Diabetes: A Chat with Insulet CCO Bret Christensen


This content was produced in partnership with Insulet—a Founding Partner of Beyond Type 2 

Bret Christensen is the chief commercial officer at Insulet, maker of the Omnipod Insulin Management System. He recently spoke with Beyond Type 2 to discuss his role at the company, how Insulet is overcoming barriers in marketing to patients with type 2 diabetes, and the importance of access and patient choice.

BT2: Thanks for joining us today, Bret! Can you start by telling us about your work and history at Insulet?

I oversee everything that’s customer-facing for us: sales, marketing, customer service and market access. We have really three customers at Insulet: the patient or the user, the physician and then, of course, the payer. Our goal and mission at Insulet is to reduce the burden of people living with diabetes so people can simply enjoy life on their terms. That’s my team’s goal. 

I’ve been here for three years; I started in May of 2017. Prior to Insulet, I’ve been at either biotechnology companies or med-tech companies really most of my career. What brought me to Insulet was the people. The former CEO, Pat Sullivan, and current CEO, Shacey Petrovic, are two people that I worked for in a previous life and just have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do. They called me just over three years ago and convinced me to come to Insulet and move my family to the Boston area. I definitely do not regret it. I only wish I would’ve got here sooner.

What’s your connection to Type 2 diabetes, personally and professionally?

My grandfather had type 2 diabetes. The insulin-requiring type 2 population are people Insulet would love to provide a solution for. There’s just been a lot of complexity with addressing that market. Some of it is access-related. Some of it’s been around the complexity of the product. Finally, some of it is also around awareness. It’s something that we’re learning more and more about every day.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions around people with type 2 diabetes. We used to hear all the time from endocrinologists that type 2 patients would not be interested in an insulin pump. They’re not interested in wearing something on their body. Lots of things like this that were really, I think, misperceptions. There’s so much that insulin-requiring type 2 patients can benefit from by adopting a product like an Omnipod, just as type 1 patients can. 

Is there anything different about pump considerations for people with insulin-requiring type 2 diabetes compared to those with type 1 diabetes?

There’s a lot of similarities actually. When we ask people with type 2 diabetes what they want in an insulin pump, it’s the same top three things that those with type 1 diabetes want. They all want; 

  1. something that’s comfortable and discreet to wear 
  2. something that helps them calculate and deliver a bolus really well 
  3. something that’s integrated with their continuous glucose monitor (CGM) 

The only difference here is that the number one request among those with type 2 is that piece about calculating and delivering a bolus. The simpler that we can make that part—and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that with DASH —the better that is for those with type 2 diabetes.

Why do you think adoption rates of pump therapy have been relatively low amongst people living with type 2 diabetes?

I think one of the reasons why there’s been so little adoption amongst those with type 2 diabetes is that companies have not done a great job marketing to those with type 2, and physicians have not done a great job marketing to them either. That’s because if you don’t think it’s going to be accessible or if you think it’s going to be too expensive, then you don’t start off with that recommendation as a physician. We know we’ve got limitations as a company.

How are you trying to change that?

One of the things that we did that was key when we launched DASH last year was doing so primarily in the pharmacy channel. That’s really important for people with type 2 diabetes for a number of reasons. In that channel, there aren’t some of the restrictions that have historically existed in the durable medical equipment (DME) channel, which is where all insulin pumps had previously resided, us included, prior to last year. In that channel, insulin pumps are thought of as durable medical equipment and can be really expensive, especially in upfront costs. It can be very costly to a patient right out-of-pocket —that’s a barrier right away. 

On top of that, there were restrictions for people with type 2 diabetes specifically in that [DME] channel, including medical tests of pancreatic function. The pharmacy, by contrast, doesn’t have those barriers. One of the reasons it doesn’t is because we are not charging this large upfront fee. In fact, there are no upfront costs to start on Omnipod. There’s none of this one-time durable fee that you pay, which can be a large amount out of your own pocket if you’ve got a high deductible. Omnipod DASH is truly, as we call it, a pay-as-you-go model. 

What makes the Omnipod DASH system a good choice for someone living with type 2 diabetes?

There are several aspects of the Omnipod DASH which are really attractive to someone living with type 2 diabetes. Some of these benefits include the three-day-wear of our small Pod pump that you put on without needing to ever see or handle a needle since it is automatically inserted. That’s a really attractive feature that other options don’t have. We’re the only tubeless Pod pump on the market.

Then are some other things like the food library. For those with type 2 diabetes, many of this is new, so there’s a lot of complexity with understanding how many carbs are in what you’re eating. That food library is really important. Also, the preset boluses that provide for a small, medium and large bolus at just the touch of a button have been really instrumental for us for those with type 2 diabetes.

The Omnipod DASH System won 2020 Product of the Year in the Health Systems Category in February, how do you plan to use that momentum to attract more type 2 customers?

It was a tremendous honor to have won, particularly because It’s a survey of 40,000 U.S. Consumers. It really validates, for me, our strategy that we’ve really amplified of focusing on the consumer. That sounds pretty simple, but I can tell you that med-tech companies don’t typically, I think, focus on the consumer. They’re building clinical products in a medical world focused on getting FDA approval, focusing on marketing to physicians and payers. The consumer in the med-tech world doesn’t really exist. Our focus is around simplicity, ease of use. Everything that we’ve done is really validated by this award that we’re tremendously proud of and we need to continue to put the consumer at the forefront of everything that we do.

Some patients with type 2 diabetes feel excluded from conversations around diabetes devices, particularly insulin pumps. How is Insulet addressing inclusivity among the type 2 population?

I can tell you that I can speak for us, and I bet I could speak for even some of our competitors, when I say that nobody wants to exclude people with type 2 diabetes from using their products. We want to include them and provide a solution. If it appears that insulin pump companies are excluding people with type 2 diabetes, I think it’s because of the limitations discussed earlier, including awareness and the costs and requirements of having to previously go through that DME channel. 

I also think the complexity of the product has been a hurdle in the past. Insulin pumps have been around for 30 years. Many people don’t know that. You think about any technology 30 years ago, the technology was not good at all. 

So I would say in the past, the complexity in the product is something that perhaps restricted pump companies from marketing to people with type 2 diabetes. In addition to ease of acquisition through the pharmacy channel, the opportunity we see is in the ease of use of the Omnipod. As the product gets easier to use, it’s going to be more attractive to all patients who require insulin.

In February, Insulet announced partnerships with both Dexcom and Abbott (FreeStyle Libre) to work together on your next-generation hybrid closed loop system. Can you talk about the importance of patient choice and interoperability?

In a sentence, we believe in patient choice. It’s tough to do what we’re doing at Insulet to make a really high-quality three-day wear disposable pod. I know that it’s really challenging to make a CGM. Then there’s an algorithm, which is the third component to an automated insulin delivery (AID) system. The FDA’s vision, and our vision as well, is that patients will be able to get components that work best for them and put a system together. Our agreements with Dexcom and Abbott are proof that we’re working towards patient choice as the standard. What we’re going to focus on is providing the best pod that we could possibly provide. If the patient chooses a Dexcom CGM or an Abbot CGM, we want them to have the ability to use Omnipod with those systems.

When is the next-generation Omnipod 5, Powered by Horizon, expected to be available?

We are in trials now. We paused our trial briefly, and we’re going to resume shortly.  But probably in early 2021, we should go into a limited market release of the product. Then some short time after we’ll do a full market release and launch it to the masses. It’s something we’re really excited about. 

WRITTEN BY T'ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education, POSTED 06/11/20, UPDATED 12/10/22

T’ara was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in July 2017 at the age of 25. Since her diagnosis, she focused her academic studies and career on diabetes awareness and living a full life with it. She’s excited to have joined the Beyond Type 1 team to continue her work. Two years later, T'ara discovered she'd been misdiagnosed with type 2 and actually has latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). Outside the office, T’ara enjoys going to the movies, visiting parks with her dog, listening to BTS and cooking awesome healthy meals. T’ara holds an MS in Nutrition Education from American University.