Propeller Health gets $14.5M Series B for smart inhaler, app combo

Propeller Health's mobile platform--Courtesy of Propeller Health

It can be difficult for patients with respiratory ailments to track their use of rescue medications. An inhaler sensor from Propeller Health does just that--serving as a remote monitor of drug use and feeding into a mobile app that tracks and analyzes medication use. The app even predicts when patients are likely to have difficulty, based on prior experience, and can be used to ensure proper inhaler usage, a common issue.

Now the company has garnered a $14.5 million Series B round led by Safeguard Scientifics ($SFE) with participation from The Social+Capital Partnership. The startup will use the financing to accelerate product development, strategic alliances, client services as well as sales and marketing.

In May, the company received FDA clearance for its next-generation system for use with metered-dose inhalers dispensing asthma and COPD medications. The new system also included as part of the smartphone app more patient-oriented disease and medication management features. The sensor on the inhaler is 30% smaller than the prior version and uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to give it an 18-month battery life without charging.

The sensor itself works as an attachment to an existing inhaler, which the patient can attach and then re-attach to the next inhaler. The actual inhaler is considered by the FDA as part of the drug approval regulatory process, so it's not feasible to alter it easily, explained Propeller CEO David Van Sickle in an interview with FierceMedicalDevices.

Prior to co-founding Propeller, Van Sickle was a respiratory epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Then he was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

His academic work looked at attaching chips and sensors to respiratory devices to identify nonadherent patients and to help patients achieve more appropriate self-management. He co-founded Propeller along with CTO Greg Tracy out of this. Propeller got its first FDA clearance in 2012.

Propeller products are currently in 15 commercial programs; the company also has a number of ongoing internal and external studies to demonstrate utility and improved outcomes. Later this year, it expects to see data from a 500-person, randomized trial conducted by hospital group Dignity Health.

Next, the startup hopes to develop sensors that can work on other drug delivery mechanisms beyond metered-dose inhalers. It also anticipates improving upon its software tools in order to give providers more time to intervene earlier.

"Despite all we know about asthma as a disease and how to treat it, the majority of people with asthma are poorly controlled," Van Sickle said. "That's why we spend so much on asthma. Patients should not be going to hospital or emergency room for asthma. But there's been a tolerance for that kind of spending. We need to better deliver more appropriate care."

- see the press release