One on One With Insulet CEO Shacey Petrovic
This article was published as part of a partnership between Beyond Type 1 and Insulet.
A life influenced by T1D
Shacey Petrovic has been affected by type 1 diabetes (T1D) for as long as she can remember. Growing up with a father with T1D—and poor management of his condition—had a lasting effect on Insulet’s current CEO.
“I learned about [type 1] from the point of view of a family member—I would get very nervous when my father got into a car because he wasn’t very well controlled.”
Roughly ten years ago, type 1 diabetes nearly cost her father his life, after a hypoglycemic incident while driving left him with 18 broken bones, a broken jaw and in a coma. The only silver lining was that it led to him beginning Pod therapy.
“At the end of the day, I actually thank God for it because it was a turning point in how he was taking care of himself and how open he was about what he was struggling with. All of that, at the end of the day, ended up being a really good thing in the long term.”
Seeing just how much his life was changed by an insulin pump was eye-opening for Petrovic. Like many people living with type 1 diabetes, her father had been hesitant to make the switch because of the perceived level of invasiveness and lack of discretion. But at the time, neither she nor her father knew that tubeless pumps existed.
Petrovic was working as the CEO of a Women’s Healthcare company in Utah when she got the call from former Insulet CEO Patrick Sullivan recruiting her to serve as chief commercial officer. She wasn’t convinced that switching titles from CEO to CCO made sense career-wise, but then she saw the potential of the Omnipod technology.
“[Sullivan] had no idea my father had type 1, and he sent me a link to Omnipod. And I looked at it, and I thought, ‘Well, I know I could have gotten my father onto a pump earlier if I had known about this technology, and how did I, somebody who’s worked in medical technology for most of her career, who has a father with type 1, not even know that this existed?’ It was really eye-opening for me, and I fell almost immediately in love with the technology, and that’s why I came over.”
The importance of access
One thing Petrovic is well aware of are issues of access within the type 1 community. Insulet had access in mind when formulating the latest version of their insulin management system, the Omnipod DASH.
“I think it’s about how we make these technologies as accessible, as simple, and as low burden as possible for the user. And we really challenged ourselves with DASH to be able to do that. It’s a consumer phone so that adds intuitiveness to the user interface … I think we took discretion and simplicity to new heights.”
The CEO is serious when it comes to accessibility: “We made the decision with DASH to eliminate the upfront cost of the system, and that’s, for us, an ongoing commitment because our goal is to be able to bring more innovation to market and enable patients to not have to be locked into a four-year contract. And the idea is as we get better and better at innovation, people will be able to move to those innovations without any restrictions and without any cost upfront. And that is part of our commitment to reduce burden and improve lives… Learning a lot about the business made me realize that there’s a huge burden in just accessing these types of technologies.”
Petrovic acknowledges that simply offering the PDM at no additional cost isn’t enough in and of itself to get people access to DASH, and some health insurance companies are not yet covering the DASH system. Insulet has an online tool to check eligibility, and they have set up an appeals process to help current Omnipod users secure coverage for DASH.
Interoperability and the future of hybrid closed loops
One of the most exciting things happening in diabetes tech over the past few years is the prevalence of interoperability, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) from different manufacturers working together to form hybrid closed-loop systems. Insulet is well aware that this is the future of diabetes tech and has two different hybrid closed loops expected to launch over the next two years: Omnipod HORIZON and a collaboration between DASH and Tidepool Loop.
“We just fundamentally agreed with the premise of interoperability, and we believe our job is to make our Omnipod the best delivery system, but people should be able to use whatever sensor and whatever other information that they want to and can.”
Tidepool Loop will exist initially as an iPhone app cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that uses information from your CGM (Dexcom G6 initially) to control the Omnipod Dash via Bluetooth. Omnipod Horizon will similarly be a hybrid closed loop controlled from your smartphone, and Petrovic realizes the novelty of controlling your pump from your phone.
“That’s really cool because we’re one of the few companies that can actually eliminate a component of the system and you’ll be able to use your phone and have a Pod… We know the number one request from our users is to be able to control your Pod from your cellphone.”
An important distinction between Horizon and Tidepool Loop is where the algorithm lives. With Tidepool, the algorithm will be on your iPhone whereas with Horizon, the algorithm is on the Pod itself and you will continue looping whether or not you are in range of your device.
“With Horizon, you’ll be able to leave your PDM behind or your phone or whatever and stay in closed loop control because the sensor on the Pod speaks directly to [the CGM] in an on-body closed loop. And that’s important when we think about time in range because every time you disconnect, you’re out of closed loop. We want people to go and take a shower or go swimming or work out and stay in closed loop because the more time you spend in loop, the more time you spend in range, the better your outcome… So we think there’s going to be some real advantages to having the algorithm on the Pod as opposed to having it on a separate PDM or a smartphone.
Bringing it home
A key move for Petrovic upon becoming CEO was opening up a manufacturing facility in the United States, in Acton, Massachusetts. Historically, the company has contracted their manufacturing through a plant in China, but the scale of production has increased dramatically over the past few years, with the customer base more than doubling since 2016.
In addition to having the ability to scale up production, having a second factory was important to create redundancy in the supply chain. A lot of factors went into determining the best location for the new factory.
Petrovic explains: “As part of our strategy, we want to bring at least one new product to market a year for the next five years. We realized it would probably make sense to have our manufacturing near our innovation team because then we can get really good at tech transfer and at new product launch, and so we decided to invest in manufacturing in Massachusetts. That is really exciting because it enables us to, basically, produce the product at a lower cost in the U.S. versus China and in a way that is very scalable and reliable, maintaining our high quality. So far, it’s been a really exciting move for us. We’re now manufacturing Pods in the United States, off the lines in Massachusetts.”
The importance of the diabetes community
Something Petrovic has been completely inspired by in her four and a half years at Insulet is the strength of the diabetes community as a whole.
“It’s a completely different level of passion and engagement in this community. I’ve learned a lot in this timeframe, and I learn every day. It’s such a dynamic market, a lot of innovation and I think a lot of things happening for patients on the advocacy front, from a community standpoint. It’s been really educational, really challenging, and really fun,” she says.
Insulet has partnered with several non-profits and advocacy organizations during Petrovic’s tenure, and that remains an important part of the company’s mission as they look to the future.
“Our mission is to improve the lives of people living with diabetes… If we are really committed to that mission and we are, we’re going to find ways through our partnerships with the community to make bigger impacts.”