i-SENS Inc. is coming to the United States. It should mean better and less expensive blood glucose meters and strips for all of us who have diabetes. But it may also be confusing.
Just don't confuse this big Korean company with iSense Corp., in Wilsonville, Oregon. That start-up company is developing a minimally-invasive continuous blood glucose monitor. i-SENS is one of the world's largest manufacturers of blood glucose meters. Their manufacturing facilities in Korea have production capacity on the order of one billion strips per year. That's in the same league as the big four brands, LifeScan, Accu-Chek, Bayer, and Abbott.
Yet until now i-SENS is little known in America. That's because it has mainly manufactured meters and strips for other companies to sell under their own names.
The i-SENS brand meters include the CareSens II and CareSens POP, which are just now becoming available in the U.S. Their newest meter, the CareSens N, will be available soon.
The "N" in "CareSens N" stands for "no-coding," while the "POP" in "CareSens POP" is just a cute music-sounding name (like pop music) for a device that resembles an MP3 player. Each of these meters takes just 0.5 microliters of blood to get a test result in 5 seconds. In fact, back in 2003 they were the first in the world to launch a strip with such advanced features. Of course, the tiny sample allows alternative site testing too.
The CareSens II can store 250 results, and you can download the test results to your PC through a USB cable. The CareSens POP is a stylish and cute little meter for those of us who are on-the-go, but without the data download feature. It uses the same strip as CareSens II, so it's a nice second one to have.
The CareSens N has an automatic code-reading feature so that you don't need to code the meter. You just put in the strip and apply blood. It haspre/post meal flagging, pre /post meal averaging, and post-meal and time-set alarms. This is good for those of us who are serious about managing our test results on our PCs.
i-SENS is Coming and Has These CareSensMeters Two Korean university professors who studied in the U.S. founded i-SENS in 2000. One of them is the company's CEO, Dr. Geun Sig Cha, who got his Ph.D. degree from University of Michigan under the world-renowned bio-sensor expert Dr. Mark Meyerhoff. Many students from Dr. Cha's lab went on to help establish other glucose bio-sensor companies in Korea, and thus he is known in the industry as the "godfather of Korean bio-sensor technology." Dr. Cha and the company's chief technical officer, Dr. Hakhyun Nam, provided strip manufacturing technology to other companies before founding i-SENS.
i-SENS's manufacturing costs are a bit higher than other Asian manufacturers because i-SENS spends heavily on quality control. In 2007 i-SENS passed a surveillance FDA site inspection for quality. It is also interesting to note that i-SENS is the only Korean or Taiwanese company that sells its products in Japan, where the market and health authorities are said be extremely meticulous about quality.
Some experts in this field predict that within five years we will see a steep drop in the market price of strips. That is a blessing for those of us who have diabetes and therefore need to check our blood glucose regularly. That also means more Korean and Taiwanese products will show up in the U.S. market. But of the many newcomers, only a few high quality manufacturers will survive in the long run, and i-SENS is at the forefront.
In other countries, CareSens presently commands up to 35 percent of the market share. i-SENS tells me that they expect that if Medicare policy becomes more stingy about reimbursing strips in the coming years, their CareSens meters will fit the bill for high quality at a low price compared to the major brand products.
Dr. Margaret Leesong, who handles international business relations for i-Sens, came to see me in Boulder, Colorado, this November from her home Seoul, Korea. Since we both love nature we not only talked business but also went on a hike together in the foothills of the Rockies.
Subsequently, she invited me to visit their facilities in Korea later this year -- and to go mountain climbing with her. But it won't be all play. You can count on further reports from me here about i-SENS.