By John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) - Roche has bought Vienna-based diabetes management platform mySugr for an undisclosed price, the Swiss drugmaker said on Friday, joining a growing crowd of companies expanding into app-based digital health services.
Privately held mySugr offers a logbook for mobile devices to help people track everything from their blood sugar, medications and activity levels. It has been working with Roche since 2014 and previously got funding from the Roche Venture Fund.
With the acquisition, Roche aims to strengthen a diabetes diagnostics business that has faced fierce price pressure in recent years, cutting into sales growth and prompting rumors that it wants to unload the business. Roche has said it wants to expand the unit, not sell it.
The takeover also reflects the latest push by medical device makers seeking to harness wireless technology and "big data". Another diabetes tech startup, U.S.-based Glooko, has lured cash from Medtronic and others for a similar platform to manage diabetes via smartphones.
The push goes well beyond diabetes, too. Last year, Roche rival Novartis joined Qualcomm to make an internet-enabled inhaler for its emphysema drug Onbrez that is due out in 2019. [http://reut.rs/1S8CEFu]
"We will be able to offer seamlessly accessible patient solutions within an open platform to better respond to the unmet needs of people with diabetes," said Roland Diggelmann, Roche's diagnostics head.
MySugr now has more than a million users, co-founder Frank Westermann said. The company, with U.S. offices in San Diego, has 47 employees, with its app available in 52 countries and in 13 languages.
"With Roche’s diabetes expertise and global network, mySugr will become an indispensable companion," Westermann said in a statement.
With mySugr's app, diabetes sufferers who use glucose meters to analyze their blood sugar levels can automatically upload data via a Bluetooth connection to their smartphones.
From there, the information can also be shared remotely with doctors working with patients to manage the disease.
MySugr will remain an open platform accessible for other manufacturers' devices following the deal, Roche said.
But those who download the app have been able to get the Swiss company's Accu-Chek-brand glucose meters for free, as Roche seeks to capture more customers for its glucose test strips that diabetics must purchase indefinitely.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields and Mark Potter)