The trends and need are well-established: Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of diabetes, afflicts nearly half a billion people around the globe, and prevalence trends indicate that this number will increase. The global cost of diabetes is estimated to be almost $1 trillion per year; the bulk of this cost is spent on managing the complications that arise from diabetes, rather than treating diabetes itself. The combination of increasing disease prevalence and increasing per capita cost signals that new solutions are needed to supplement, or replace, traditional diabetes prevention and management tools.
We have identified four pillars of up-and-coming, digitally enabled solutions for diabetes prevention and management: 1) physical activity, 2) nutrition and weight management, 3) blood glucose management, and 4) insulin therapy. The first two pillars, physical activity and nutrition/weight management, mainly operate on the preventative front, helping healthy, at-risk, and even prediabetes individuals keep diabetes at bay; blood glucose management and insulin therapy play a bigger role for patients diagnosed with diabetes.
For this discussion, we are focusing on personalized nutrition, under the nutrition and weight management pillar – an emerging space where individualized dietary recommendations and products are based on physical traits and lifestyle data, biomarkers, genetics, and/or the microbiome. A surge in innovation activity, particularly patent publications from the likes of Nestlé, has personalized nutrition catching attention around the globe. In fact, the IP metadata reveals a staggering order-of-magnitude increase in patents from 2017 to 2018:
So why is personalized nutrition so important to solving the diabetes dilemma? Here are our thoughts:
First and foremost, philosophically speaking, it would simply be better to prevent the disease in the first place, and personalized nutrition offers a means to do so.
Second, and now scientifically speaking, academic research is rapidly uncovering new genetic and physiological information that is helping paint the picture as to why some individuals develop diabetes and others do not. The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, and the University of Tokyo are two organizations leading this charge. The former recently uncovered five genetic clusters from known diabetes risk loci and related traits, while the latter pioneered a trans-omics approach that combines genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics data to develop a diabetes map based on how insulin affects cells.
In short, the aforementioned studies exemplify how the implication of genetic variation suggests a personalized approach is needed, not just in treatment, but also in nutrition. As such, we see genetics being a necessary data input in forming personalized nutrition recommendations and products for diabetes prevention.
Given the strong need to reverse the rise in disease prevalence and per capita cost of diabetes, we encourage players along the food, health, and wellness value chain to accelerate and leverage advancements in understanding the genetic and molecular mechanisms that underpin the disease. In doing so, they can help personalized nutrition realize its true potential: a means to shift the healthcare paradigm from disease treatment to disease prevention.