Robert Oringer: The Entrepreneur Who Pioneered Private-Label Diabetes Products

Letter from the Publisher, Nadia Al-Sammarie.

| Jun 2, 2008

In the 17 years I have known Robert Oringer, I can honestly say that he has a soaring entrepreneurial spirit and a fierce independence – he is a man who is hard to harness. His mind is always ticking, excited by the next innovative idea.

My most recent conversation with him led us to the hot topic of diabetes and education.  Robert is an investor in dLife, which, like Diabetes Health TV, is committed to educating and engaging the diabetes community for better outcomes. We started discussing disease management companies and how they stand to benefit with the advent of web-cams and personal home videoconferencing technology.

If you read our last publication, Amy Tenderich wrote a fabulous article about the poor state of diabetes education and the closing of diabetes education facilities. In the next two or three years, says Robert, one possible solution will be one-on-one coaching videoconferences where people with diabetes can consult online with their diabetes educators without having to physically show up at a treatment center or facility.

Robert’s involvement with dLife is typical of his passion for new companies with great ideas. “There’s something about start ups that I love – something about creating new things that no else one has done. Making a difference means you take risk.”

He has always had an eye for unique new products. When I first met Robert in 1990, he and his business partners had just gotten started in the diabetes industry by accident. Robert was selling a broad range of medical products in Canada, which included lancets by the name of EZ-Ject.  At first he wanted to create name brand recognition for the lancets. However, he quickly realized that the retail chain pharmacies and wholesale distributors were primed for private “store brand” labeling.  This was a time when most people paid cash for their diabetes supplies, so saving up to 30 percent on a store brand was very appealing to both consumers and retailers.

“Initially, we were trying to establish our EZ-Ject brand of lancets with independent pharmacists,” Robert recalls. “It was in 1990 at the National Association of Retail Druggists’ convention that we came to realize that the pharmacists wanted to be able to offer their own brand of diabetes products to their customers. Our first major private-label drug wholesaler was the old Bergen Brunswig company. Our first retailer was Hooks Drug... purchased a long time ago by another chain. By 1993, many wholesalers and retailers had come on board with private-label lancets, alcohol swabs and glucose tablets. In late 1994, we began rolling out private label syringes for all of the same drug wholesalers and retailers.”

To the Next Level

Wal-Mart took private label diabetes products to another level when Frank Seagrave, its former Vice President of Pharmacy, decided the company needed to do more for people with diabetes.  Frank worked closely with Bob Guest from the Arcadia Group to develop a Wal-Mart brand by the name of ReliOn, which included lancets, glucose tabs and syringes at its initial launch.  Shortly after the line’s initial rollout,  Wal-Mart pioneered the first and only private label insulin brand, which is manufactured by Novo Nordisk.  Today, the ReliOn brand at Wal-Mart is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a cost savings of $100 million for people with diabetes.

I asked Robert what other diabetes new product ideas he has. He chuckled and offered  up a new one that makes perfect sense once you think about it: “tiny tissues.” Robert has two children with type 1 diabetes. Every day they need to cut tissues in tiny pieces to wipe blood off their fingers after lancing. Some people either lick their fingers or wipe them on their pants. Robert’s “tiny tissues” are a simple concept that would solve the problem of where to wipe your blood—with a clean and convenient solution.

Robert did not start out with a focus on diabetes or diabetes-oriented businesses. But after seeing his children diagnosed with diabetes, he committed himself to make the focus of his investments diabetes-related.  As a result, companies like Can-Am Care, Access Product Marketing, Inverness Medical, Agamatrix and dLife have all benefited from his vision and continued support in providing branded and private label diabetes products and education.

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Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Insulin, Making a Difference, Novo Nordisk, Professional Issues, Type 1 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 3 June 2008

When I met Robert the first time at the 2004 AADE event in Salt Lake City, I saw that zeal you refer to in his eyes. Before he said his name I knew this guy was a do-er; someone who makes things happen. Jeff Hitchcock (CWD) had actually made the introduction via email so when he introduced himself I was very pleased to make the connection.

The key to successfully including video as a coaching tool is also making sure that you have all of the other supporting tools as well - not just video. Without a comprehensive approach to the encounter between patient and physician/educator/coach a telephone call works pretty well, too.

I think where Robert is going with this though is to say that within the next few years, the delivery of diabetes care, including an emphasis on education, will become more efficient. It has to due to the simple economics that occurs when the rate of new onset is through the roof and the availability of skilled care isn't keeping pace.

By the way, this isn't really a future. Our diabetes team in South Texas held the first one-on-one video consult between a patient family in their own living room and their pediatric endocrinologist in his office over 250 miles away back on Nov 30, 2007. What's unique though is that this 45 minute virtual visit was supported by automated blood glucose reports (via GlucoMON) and A1c results via the HomeCheck mail-in laboratory hematology test.

This program is called Diabetes HouseCall envisioned by Stephen Ponder, a pediatric endocrinologist, Certified Diabetes Educator, Medical Director of Texas Lions Camp for Diabetes, etc... He has a dozen families now enrolled in this comprehensive concierge-style practice of advanced diabetes care and we hope to have 10% of his practice active in this program by the end of this summer. Where else can you get that much time with your diabetes coach - from the comfortable surroundings of home, without the time and expense of traveling great distances or having to wait forever in the waiting room?

Thanks to pioneering programs like Stephen Ponder's Diabetes HouseCall, the realization of Robert's vision will be accelerated.

Kevin McMahon - Diabetech

Posted by Anonymous on 6 June 2008

I use ReliOn products and would love to see WalMart market their own brand of blood glucose that used very low-cost test strips. The high cost of test strips is an obstacle to agressive BG management and if any company can bring down the cost of diabetes, it's Walmart.

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