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Smart Inhaler Startup Announces New FDA Wins

A Madison, WI-based startup's digital health platform for managing respiratory ailments is gaining momentum in the United States.

Brian Buntz

Propeller Health
Propeller Health's platform automatically tracks the time and the location a dose of inhaler-based medicine is administered.

One of the biggest barriers to effective management of asthma is medication nonadherence, which can range from 30-70% according to various studies.

Founded in 2010, the startup Propeller Health (Madison, WI) has addressed the problem by devising a sensor and corresponding app to help patients track their symptoms and use of medications.

Last week, the company was able to expand its clinical claims in the United States to include improving medication adherence. "There is a significant clinical literature that shows audiovisual reminders on inhaled medications will increase adherence," says David Van Sickle, CEO and cofounder of Propeller Health. The company was able to boost its claims in part through internal clinical data.

FDA has gradually permitted the company to market its technology for an ever wider range of applications and asthma platforms since 2012. Most recently, the company obtained clearance for use of its technology with the GlaxoSmithKline Diskus dry powder inhaler and Boehringer Ingelheim's Respimat inhaler, marking the first time the system can be used to track daily medication use rather than only emergency-based medication use.

In March, the company announced FDA clearance of its technology for use with Boehringer Ingelheim's Respimat inhaler for COPD.

Propeller Health's technology can be used to drive adherence via messages on a user's smartphone in addition to email- and text-message-based reminders. The system is also compliant with the Qualcomm Life's 2net Hub.

A significant body of clinical data shows that the use of inhaled medicine can significantly improve the treatment of both COPD and asthma.

The company also leverages software to help identify patients' whose symptoms are worsening.

Van Sickle sees tremendous promise in the use of smart inhalers to improve drug adherence and reduce patients' symptoms. "What would you do today if you wanted to improve the treatment of respiratory diseases, and there were no more advances in the medications used to treat them? What would you work on?" Van Sickle asks. "You would work on increasing adherence. You would try to improve inhaler technique. You would use digital tools to track how effectively we are using the medications and to measure and ultimately improve patients' satisfaction with therapy," he adds.

Van Sickle says the company's technology can be used to help deliver personal insight to patients that help them have a deeper understanding of their symptoms, which in turn helps doctors better manage them. "That is a huge part of the promise of smart inhalers: for the first time, information about the day-to-day burden and management of respiratory disease can now be put to work."

The company's technology is in use in 35 commercial programs at facilities across the United States, including healthcare systems, employers, and payers.

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at MEDevice San Diego, September 1-2, 2015.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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