Rising to the Test, Innovating for the Future

Abbott's President and CEO talks with Jim Cramer about beating COVID, the innovation pipeline and healthcare's future.

Strategy and Strength|Jun.02, 2021

Abbott's President and CEO Robert Ford had a lot to talk about with Jim Cramer at CNBC's Healthy Returns Summit.

The annual event convenes the top healthcare investors and executives to explore innovations that will drive better outcomes, financially and clinically.

This year's summit dove into the lessons learned over the past 15 months and how they're being applied to future treatments and innovations.

"From the beginning, we went all in because we knew that we had a responsibility to develop tests not only for the pandemic phase, but also for the vaccine phase," Mr. Ford said.

But that's only part of the story. Abbott has continued innovating throughout the pandemic, with more than 100 new products expected in the next two to three years across its businesses.

"One of the key aspects is this conversion of digital and healthcare coming together," Mr. Ford said, adding, "that is the future: to be able to empower the consumer, empower them with information, with data that they can use, packaged in a way that's understandable."

Read on for some of Mr. Ford's remarks from the session with Cramer.* For all the details, watch the full interview.

Employee Testing
"We've been testing our employees since we had the test available here in the U.S. and overseas. And the impact that has for employees, to feel better about coming back to the office, I think that's going to be an important aspect here. So, we're working with a lot of companies who want to figure out — OK, how do I deploy this? How do I give this out to my employees as an investment in my reopening strategy?"

Helping Prevent Future Pandemics with Abbott's Pandemic Defense Coalition, a Global Network of Scientists Currently Searching for COVID-19 Variants
"Because of our experience in infectious disease testing we have a group, we call them the Virus Hunters. They're constantly looking for new viruses. And in this case, we set up a team to be able to monitor all of the [COVID-19] mutations that could exist, and I think we're ahead of it. We put the resources in place, and we partner. Because it can't just be a U.S. thing. We have to partner with all the countries, all the universities, and all the different collection sites. We're working proactively to monitor, to chase these mutations."

Diagnostic Testing Innovation Beyond COVID-19
"What our scientists were able to do to keep the pipeline going was fantastic. One of those key products is a rapid test to be able to detect mild concussions or traumatic brain injuries. If you think about all the elementary schools, high schools, all the colleges, you're talking about 100,000-plus institutions all doing sports. And the current methodology today is if you think you have a concussion, you get taken out of the game. You then go to a hospital to maybe do a CT scan. With this test, you will be able to do a test in 15 minutes and get the result right there. And if it's negative, then a kid can go back into the game."

Continuing to Invest in the Innovation Pipeline
"One of the key things that we've done during this pandemic phase is we've taken the profits, the cash flows from our COVID testing business, we've provided a portion of that back to our shareholders, we increased our dividend 25 percent this year. But we've also taken a portion of that and reinvested into the business, into the pipeline, into the portfolio. And I think that's the key for us. It's the lifeline of our company and we've got over 100 new products over the next two to three years across all of our businesses."

The Future of the Libre Portfolio
"We looked at FreeStyle Libre as really a mass-market opportunity. We thought about it in three ways: Build a consumer-friendly device, invest in outcomes to show that you can actually, while wearing it, improve your diabetes and we priced it in a way that aligned to where we saw the opportunity, a mass-market opportunity. And that strategy is working. Right now, we're the leader, if you look at it from a revenue perspective, the amount of patients we have, three times more than our nearest competitor. And we're the leader in clinical evidence. FreeStyle Libre is the most studied CGM in the world right now. We're going to keep that innovation. We're going to keep on leading.

"We launched our second-generation product here in the U.S. last year, best accuracy across the board, whether it's for kids or adults. We launched FreeStyle Libre 3 in Germany a couple of weeks ago. It's getting great, great reviews from the diabetes community in Europe. We've got FreeStyle Libre 4 in development. But we also talked about Libre always being a platform, that we could potentially use the platform to look at other analytes and explore other measurements outside of diabetes, and we have a whole team assembled to be able to work on that. The first product we launched last year in Europe was a sports biosensor, aimed at the fitness market. The potential we have is significant, and we're really in the early innings here."

The Digital Transformation in Healthcare
"We were figuring out ways to connect those devices to the phones, to the tablets, the cloud. We've done that with FreeStyle Libre. We've done it with a lot of our cardiovascular devices. And we've started to do that with our diagnostic businesses too. And I think that that is the future, to be able to empower the consumer, empower them with information, with data that they can use, packaged in a way that's understandable for the consumer. And there's a way to package it for the healthcare professional and there's a different way to package it for the consumer. That's a lot of where Abbott is going, that digitally connected healthcare space."

*Edited for space.

This story was originally published on May 14, 2021. It was updated on June 2, 2021.




The BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Test Card EUA has not been FDA cleared or approved. It has been authorized by the FDA under an emergency use authorization for use by authorized laboratories. The test has been authorized only for the detection of proteins from SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses or pathogens, and is only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostic tests for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.




The FreeStyle Libre 2 Flash Glucose Monitoring System is a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device with real time alarms capability indicated for the management of diabetes in persons age 4 and older.*


The System must not be used with automated insulin dosing (AID) systems, including closed loop and insulin suspend systems. Remove the sensor before MRI, CT scan, X-ray, or diathermy treatment. Do not take high doses of vitamin C (more than 500 mg per day), as this may falsely raise your Sensor readings. Failure to use the System according to the instructions for use may result in missing a severe low blood glucose or high blood glucose event and/or making a treatment decision that may result in injury. If glucose alarms and readings from the System do not match symptoms or expectations, use a fingerstick blood glucose value to make diabetes treatment decisions. Seek medical attention when appropriate and contact Abbott Toll Free (855-632-8658) or visit * www.freestylelibre.us for detailed indications for use and safety information.
*Please refer to www.freestylelibre.us for the indications and important safety information.