Roche hoping to gain edge with new diabetes-testing product

Two months after laying off 42 workers from its north-side campus, citing competitive pressures in the diabetes care market, Roche Group is rolling out a new blood-glucose meter and a savings program for test strips, which it says it will make diabetes care more affordable.

The move could give the company an edge in a brutal market if enough patients and insurers decide it will help them save money while managing the disease better.

Roche doesn’t make insulin, which has been rising in price in recent years, but makes products that diabetes patients can use to test their blood sugar.

Roche said Wednesday its new Accu-Chek glucose meter kit will be easier to use than the previous meter. The new meter includes a port light for testing at night and Bluetooth technology that can upload data to a smart phone for tracking sugar levels.

Patients monitor their blood sugar by pricking a finger with a small lance, placing a drop of blood onto a Accu-Chek test strip and inserting the strip into the meter. The meter uses electrochemistry technology to measure the sugar level in the blood. Roche said the new monitor kits will allow patients to place a drop of blood anywhere along the end of the strip, instead of a tiny, designated spot, which should make it easier to use.

The meter is free, and the cost of strips will be significantly less under a new savings program, Roche said.

Currently, Roche’s test strips cost about $60 for a pack of 50. The company said that under its new SimplePay savings program, the first pack will cost $19.99 and refills will cost $10.

Brad Moore, head of Roche’s Diabetes Care North America unit on Hague Road, said the company was able to lower the price by “dramatically improving efficiencies” in manufacturing. The company makes billions of test strips a year at the huge complex.

Moore said the efficiencies were unrelated to layoffs earlier this year. In March, Roche said it would cut 157 positions across the country in its diabetes care business, including 42 in Indianapolis, “to address the competitive diabetes care market and secure the long-term viability of the business.”

The market for diabetes products and medicines has become sharply competitive in recent years, under pressure from payers to reduce prices. That has resulted in numerous drugmakers, including Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, deciding to lay of thousands of workers.

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, one of the fastest-growing diseases in the nation. It is a metabolic disease associated with blood-sugar levels that can lead to serious complications, including heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.

Roche said it developed the new meter kit and savings program after surveying 500 patients. The results showed that 58 percent admitted cutting corners to save money because many are on insurance plans with high co-pays and high deductibles, or have no insurance. More than 60 percent said they would manage their disease better if the supplies were more affordable.

“It’s important for patients to understand their blood glucose levels and manage their disease,” Moore said.

Patients can download the free savings card by visiting

Roche has nearly 3,500 workers in central Indiana, including about 1,200 in its Diabetes Care unit.

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