Propeller Health

CEO: David Van Sickle
Based: Madison, WI
Founded: 2010
Company website

The scoop: Propeller Health is aiming to improve care for individuals with asthma and COPD with its sensor technology. The company's product attaches to two different inhalers, one for everyday use and one for emergencies, to track when patients take their medication. A Bluetooth radio transmits the data to a smartphone, where an accompanying app can provide readouts on data from the sensor.

Last year, the company scored FDA clearance for its next-generation system, which is 30% smaller than the original version and has an 18-month battery life without charging. The system's mobile app gives personalized information, reminding patients to use their inhalers and telling physicians when an individual uses their rescue inhaler more frequently. And all this information is collected without extra work from physicians and patients, CEO David Van Sickle told FierceMedicalDevices.

"We're helping people improve self-management, but with less effort," Van Sickle said. "We're bringing it to the digital era, making it easier for people to do a better job of tracking their illness. The sensor helps patients remember to take their controller medication, or alert caregivers if they need more help."

The response to Propeller's technology has been "really positive" so far, he added. Last year, the company reeled in $14.5 million in a Series B round led by Safeguard Scientifics ($SFE) to ramp up product development, build relationships in the industries and dial up marketing for its systems.

The company has also inked some deals with Big Pharma, partnering with the likes of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Boehringer Ingelheim to pair its sensors with the companies' inhalers. In July, Propeller got an FDA OK to sell its app and sensor with GSK inhalers. The company already has FDA clearance to pair its system with Boehringer Ingelheim's Spiriva Respimat inhaler for COPD.

What makes Propeller Health Fierce: Part of Propeller's end game involves cutting down costs while improving care for patients. Most patients with asthma and COPD are not being managed as well as they should be, Van Sickle said, and the company's system could help care teams identify patients who need more help.

Propeller already has 30 commercial programs in the U.S. with a range of medical groups, integrated delivery systems and payers, he added, as more insurers sign on to the company's approach.

Propeller is touting promising early data showing that its systems can reduce uncontrolled asthma and improve patients' condition. In clinical studies, patients' uncontrolled asthma dropped by 50% after using the company's system for three months, it said on its website. Almost three-quarters of patients in the trials improved their level of control during the same period.

The system could also mean big things for drug adherence, as pharma companies look for innovative ways to help patients stay on their meds. In recent programs, up to 80% of patients with asthma still used their Propeller system 3 to 6 months after enrollment, the company said on its website--an attractive number for drugmakers looking to boost engagement.

"Information about use of medicine and physiological measurements is going to play a big role in how we care for patients with chronic respiratory diseases," Van Sickle said. "There's lot of room for improvement, not only in adherence but improving technique, understanding when regimens should be adjusted."

What to look for: Propeller is planning on launching a program with "a couple respiratory pharma companies," Van Sickle said, offering a version of its system to help drugmakers track patients taking their meds.

The company is also forging ahead with its Boehringer Ingelheim partnership. If all goes according to plan, Propeller will kick off its first programs with the drugmaker later this year, Van Sickle said.

On the clinical trial front, Propeller has "a bunch" of clinical studies in the works, including a couple of studies in the publication process, he added. "We're always working on accumulating evidence from randomized controlled trials. So we'll be endlessly published."

Looking ahead, Van Sickle sees the company's approach playing an important role in how information fuels new, cost-effective models of delivering care and personalizing it for patients.

"What we can do is go beyond clinical practice guidelines and personalize the care and treatment of individuals using response to treatment and progression, and hopefully improve the picture and put a big dent in the morbidity in what has otherwise been frustrating and persistent in asthma and COPD," Van Sickle said.

-- Emily Wasserman (email | Twitter)

For more:
Propeller Health gets FDA nod to sell app, sensor with GSK inhalers
Propeller Health gets $14.5M Series B for smart inhaler, app combo

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