The UAE and a number of other countries in the MENA region – with its dramatic rise in so-called lifestyle diseases - are benefiting from a groundbreaking device from a British company in the fight against diabetes.
John Sjölund, co-founder and CEO of London-based Patients Pending, has had diabetes since he was three and knows the anxiety of trying to remember if and when he last took an insulin injection.
This inspired the development of Timesulin, with the help of John’s brother, Andreas Sjölund, a co-creator of Skype. It measures the time since the previous insulin injection to make life easier for a diabetic who may need four or five insulin injections every day. An accidental missed, or double insulin dose can have serious or even fatal consequences.
Following UKTI help and support, Timesulin export sales now account for more than 75% of company turnover. They have simultaneously launched the product in more than 45 countries, many of which are in high-growth markets, including the firm’s recent success in the Middle East, north Africa and South Korea.
John knew it had global appeal from the start. He says: “According to the International Diabetes Federation, 366 million people worldwide have diabetes and it is increasing. According to recent surveys, one in three people fail to take their insulin as prescribed.”
Staff numbers have doubled from three to seven in just over a year at the company, and Mr Sjölund said: “I have always lived with the regular – and frustrating - problem of being uncertain of when I last took my insulin.
“When you live with diabetes and take so many insulin injections, they become part of daily life and tend to fade into the background as they typically don’t hurt and are not traumatic.
“It’s so easy to forget whether you’ve actually taken your shot, or not. So in 2008, together with my brother, with his background in developing easy-to-use products, we developed the concept of adding an automated timer to a standard insulin pen cap.”
Pursuing the idea seriously in 2011, they gathered investment from family and friends and in less than eight months, together with a third partner, developed a simple timer solution that fits on the end of the insulin pen like a standard cap, telling you how much time had passed since your last injection.
While some pharmaceutical companies have tried to address this in the past, none did it as simply as Timesulin. John describes the product as life changing: “Living with diabetes, you are constantly making decisions about the food you eat and checking in with yourself – why am I thirsty, tired or irritated – could it be my blood glucose levels? Just taking one of these decisions and making it safer and less anxious, makes life a little easier.”
John launched the product internationally to trade at a conference in Lisbon in September 2011. Before it was even fully in production, he received his first order, and made key contacts at Diabetes UK and the Foundation of European Nurses in Diabetes, who quickly saw the value in the product giving him access to a huge diabetes network.
John said: “Taking part in UKTI’s Passport to Export programme has been such a positive experience – other people should definitely be taking advantage of it.”
John accessed UKTI financial support and advice to help him expand his business further and faster, including offering support to attend the EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes) conference in Berlin at the end of 2012. John said: “£1,000 may not seem like a lot of money, but to a small company like ours, accessing financial help to attend a crucial sector tradeshow is a big deal.”
Using match funding available through the scheme, he was able to travel to the American Diabetes Association’s annual conference to meet potential partners. There the British consulate also provided assistance with market intelligence and advice on import formalities – which is particularly onerous for healthcare products launching in the US.
Parveen Thornhill, UKTI London regional director commented: "This entrepreneurial, small firm shows that with the right support, a well-thought out idea can have global potential very quickly.”