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Innovation

Delve Talks: Jake Leach, Dexcom

September 09, 2019

Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our first season focuses on what it takes to create a corporate culture that supports innovation.

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Dave Franchino:Hi everybody. I'm your host, Dave Franchino. Thanks for joining us today. My guest is Jake Leach. Jake is the Chief Technology Officer of Dexcom That's a company that's really been a leader and a pioneer in continuous glucose monitoring, bringing assistance to people with diabetes. Last year, Dexcom launched its G6 system to the marketplace and that's been met with really sound enthusiasm both by users and by investors. So, Jake, welcome to our podcast and thank you very much for joining us.

Jake Leach: A pleasure to be here Dave. Thank you.

Dave Franchino:Great, maybe to start off you could tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background to provide some context on your thoughts.

Jake Leach: Yeah, of course. My name is Jake Leach. I’m the Chief Technology Officer at Dexcom. We are, as Dave mentioned, a company that develops, designs and manufactures continuous glucose monitors. I'll give you little background on myself and then I'll give you a little background on the technology. So, I'm an engineer by training – electrical and biomedical. I've spent my entire career in the diabetes device industry. I started right out of university at a company called MiniMed which was up in the Los Angeles area of California, and we were developing and manufacturing insulin pumps. So, devices that infuse insulin, which is a drug used by people with diabetes to lower their blood glucose.

And so, it was a pumping mechanism that delivered insulin subcutaneously. So right under the skin. We also in the mid 90s were working on continuous glucose monitors, which were for, again, people with diabetes. But the idea there was we wanted to instead of the standard of care, which was to prick your finger, squirt blood onto a test strip, and make a measurement. We were after trying to do that in a much more convenient way for users, which was from to wear a patch that could detect the glucose. So, MiniMed was one of the companies that launched the very first continuous glucose monitor in the late 90s, and so I had the opportunity to work on some of those systems.

And then I joined Dexcom in 2004. So, 15 years ago, we were a startup company. There were about 30 of us. And very focused on the technology. The vast majority of the company were engineers and scientists and we had one goal, which was to develop an accurate and reliable glucose monitor and it took on lots of different iterations. We focused on implantables and then moved towards a more patch style, which is a similar architecture to what we have today. It’s gone through many generations here at the company as we’re working on different parts of the technology. And today, I lead the research development team. I've been a part of that team since it started at the company and it's just been an amazing opportunity to be part of something that is changing the face of how diabetes is managed.

Dave Franchino:Jake, one of the things that I was interested to talk to you about is the challenges and opportunities of driving innovation in a company that's making medical devices. It’s one thing I think to be innovative in consumer products or application software, but clearly the type of products you and Dexcom are working on have a higher, I’ll call it standard of care. What are techniques that you use to continue to drive innovation in an environment where the products you're working have serious implications and ramifications for people's lives and health.

Jake Leach: It's a great question, Dave. Surprisingly, though, it's not actually too different from the way that technology companies innovate and create or normal consumer-product companies. We do see ourselves as a consumer product because our customers are the folks that use the product. Although it's often paid for by their insurance, we deal directly with many of the customers ourselves and interact and take their service calls and technical support. We manage all of that for them. So, it is very much a consumer device, the differences being those you mentioned. It's a medical device. So, one, there’s a lot of safety implications and two, it's a highly regulated environment by the FDA here in the US and by other agencies across the world. So, it is a unique challenge in being able to innovate and move quickly. I think, some of the keys for our success at Dexcom has been to develop procedures and kind of policies and ways of working that allow us to experiment. Innovation is all about experimenting with new ideas and often that can be challenging in a regular environment where you have to have a lot of proof of safety before you can actually go test something.

So, we have lots of different ways we test. We do a lot of development of bench tests so that we can test something without having to go to into humans. So, a lot of our experiments will be on the bench. But then, we do move to human clinical studies because really the proof is in actual clinical data. We're approached by many startups in the glucose monitoring space and being the CTO, I get to interact with these folks and it's always fun and exciting, but my biggest question is always, “Okay, so show me your clinical data” and often when they don't have any it's like, okay, this is a great idea, great technology, but the human body is so sophisticated and physiology -- often you really need to prove technology out in humans when you're trying to measure glucose. We’ve come up with a lot of our ways of running clinical trials. We have our own internal clinical trials group that's very well-trained and sophisticated and we use those teams to run lots of clinical trials. We run a lot of clinical trials on products that never could commercialize because we're working on testing devices and their performance and sometimes, you know, you still have to prove that it's safe. So there's a lot of testing you have to do, but it's worth it because you get what you need to do to prove the systems work.

Jake Leach 2
Jake Leach, Chief Technology Officer, Dexcom

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