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 crowd of companies expanding app-based digital health services.
Privately held mySugr offers a logbook for mobile devices to help people track their blood sugar, medications and activity levels. It has been working with Roche since 2014 and previously got funding from Roche's Venture Fund.
With the acquisition, Roche aims to strengthen a diabetes diagnostics business that has faced fierce price pressure in recent years, cutting sales growth and prompting rumors it wants to unload the business. Roche has said it wants to expand the unit, not sell it.
"The investment reflects our commitment to our diabetes care business and to improving the lives of people with diabetes," a Roche spokeswoman said on Friday.
The takeover also underscores the 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.
The tech push goes well beyond diabetes: Last year, Roche rival Novartis joined Qualcomm to make an internet-enabled inhaler for its emphysema drug Onbrez 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 has more than a million users, co-founder Frank Westermann said. The company, with U.S. offices in San Diego, has 47 employees. Its app is available in 52 countries.
"With Roche's diabetes expertise and global network, mySugr will become an indispensable companion," Westermann said.
The companies cite one study showing high-risk Type 1 diabetes patients -- whose bodies do not produce insulin -- who use a mobile health app reduced their average blood glucose by nearly 20 percent.
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 be shared usually via email with doctors.
Following the deal, MySugr's apps will still be accessible for other manufacturers' devices, Roche said.
But those who download the app in markets including Germany can get Roche's Accu-Chek-brand glucose meters for free, as the Swiss company seeks to capture more customers for its glucose test strips that diabetics must purchase indefinitely.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans)