Boehringer Ingelheim, Propeller Health to enroll 2,500 'smart' inhaler patients in evidence-generation program

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

Big Pharma and Boehringer Ingelheim are expanding their "smart inhaler" partnership with Madison, WI's Propeller Health.

Propeller already has the FDA's OK to sell its patient tracking and adherence app and sensors with BI's Respimat inhaler for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Diskus dry powder inhaler for asthma and COPD and most metered-dose inhalers. Now 2,500 Respimat patients will have the opportunity to enroll in a 12-month program offered at select U.S. medical centers that's designed to determine how smart inhaler tools affect adherence rates and patient engagement, the companies said in a release.

BI executive director Ruchin Kansal told FierceMedicalDevices in an email that the adherence rates will be measured passively through prescription utilization analytics and reporting. The program's goal is to determine whether Propeller Health sensors will be accepted and adopted by patients and their physicians and increase adherence, he said. It is not funded by private or public payers. 

Via sensors attached to inhalers, the 2015 Fierce 15 company's app provides personalized information and helps doctors monitor and adjust drug dosing. The system also gives patients personalized reminders to use the respiratory devices, for CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo has said that in total, nonadherence with doctors' orders about the frequency of medication usage and proper dosage is costing the healthcare system about $300 billion per year in unnecessary costs.

Inhalers are a prime example of a drug delivery device that's plagued by compliance and adherence issues due to patient difficulty mastering their use and the need for frequent, often daily usage to achieve maximum impact. Propeller hopes strong data from the new program will provide proof of the benefits of its device. The company says the information is collected passively, without any additional work from patients or doctors.

The program for Respimat patients should help the duo with their evidence-generation efforts, enabling them to quantify improvements in adherence and health outcomes, so that more docs will offer the Propeller accessories, and more insurance companies will pay for them.

Propeller already claims that its system results in up to 79% fewer asthma attacks.

"We are excited to work with Boehringer Ingelheim to bring Propeller to people with asthma and COPD at health systems across the U.S.," said Propeller CEO David Van Sickle in a statement. "Together, we believe that digital tools can complement the use of respiratory medications and encourage more appropriate and effective management of chronic respiratory disease."

The company believes tracking technique is an opportunity as well, though it's more challenging than monitoring whether a patient administered their medication, or at least tried to. One study found that only 7% of patients used the proper administration and breathing technique.

The company teamed up with Aptar Pharma in February to develop a pressurized metered-dose inhaler with sensors and components that monitor usage of the upcoming asthma- and COPD-fighting device, dubbed the cMDI. The deal with Aptar aims to build the sensors directly into the inhaler, rather than making them available as an optional, add-on accessory, as is currently the case.

Qualcomm ($QCOM) and Novartis ($NVS) are also in the race to develop the first integrated smart inhaler, with goals of a 2019 launch. In January they announced they are working together to develop a next-gen connected version of the Big Pharma's Breezhaler device that's used across its entire COPD drug portfolio.

And last year, Teva ($TEVA) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) made smart inhaler bets of their own by acquiring Gecko Health and investing in Adherium, respectively.

- read the statement

Special Report: FierceMedicalDevices' 2015 Fierce 15 - Propeller Health