Countering Korea’s Diabetes Epidemic, With AI?

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Industry players – from Big Pharma giants to small local startups – are bringing new, innovative solutions to market in Korea in order to try and solve the country’s diabetes epidemic.

 

The growing prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes is becoming a global issue. According to Dr Nam Han Cho, president of the International Diabetes Federation, “in global terms, 425 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes and 352 million are in the early-stage, which means that 777 million people are suffering from the disease, costing health systems globally more than USD 1.3 trillion.”

South Korea has not managed to escape this epidemic. In fact, Korea has a relatively high percentage of diabetes sufferers with approximately five million Koreans affected; including those in the pre-stage of diabetes, more than ten million are affected. A genetically low insulin secretion capacity among Asians means that more than 60 percent of diabetes patients originate from Asia.

Korean society also plays home to many of the risk factors for diabetes, namely changing city environments and unhealthy diets. “The Korean diet is nowadays a risk factor in particular as it includes high levels of fat and protein, thus requiring a lot of insulin. Diabetes is sometimes called World War III, as it kills more than five million people annually,” posits Dr Cho. He continues, “we are fighting a war not against another country, but against the disease.”

 

Adapting to the Market

Exacerbating this situation are the negative perceptions around forms of treatment for diabetes perpetuated in Korean society, such as a general fear of injectable medicines. As Novo Nordisk General Manager Rana Afzar notes, “the use of injectables and insulin are still considered a last resort option. As a result, the insulin market in Korea is very small. The incidence of insulin dependency is 7.3 percent, but the actual number of those taking insulin medication is much lower”.

Notwithstanding this, those involved in the fight against diabetes in Korea are utilizing technology to circumvent these issues and maximise value to patients. One such example is Novo Nordisk who are launching new medicines requiring fewer injections – “To counter this trend against injectables, we have launched more convenient medications such as Treshiba® which requires only one injection daily and at any time. We also offer a system in our latest devices called flex touch, whereby the patient injects the insulin painlessly by clicking the device, rather than using a traditional needle,” remarks Afzar.

 

AI in Diabetes Care

One of the key technological trends impacting healthcare as a whole – artificial intelligence (AI) – has been particularly keenly felt in the diabetes field, driving the development of new treatments and ways in which the disease can be managed. “Diabetes has profited in many ways from AI, including through glucose checking devices that have brought many benefits,” notes Dr Cho. “Thanks to AI, today we are able to detect diabetes earlier and more accurately than ever before,” he adds. Prevention and early detection are crucial in diabetes treatment: once a patient has diabetes, it can lead to blindness in 27 percent of the cases within ten years

A local Korean company excelling in bringing these new solutions to the market has been i-SENS, “I determined that i-SENS could produce a product that was more advanced than the competition available, creating the most advanced 0.5μL and five second glucose sensor on the Korean market using only our own patents,” reflects Hakhyun Nam, the company’s co-founder & chief technology officer (CTO).

Further innovation is taking the next step, beyond glucose sensors. For example, fingerpicks have been rendered obsolete and doctors can now automatically receive information through data transfer, making condition management and early detection even easier for diabetes patients.

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