Teva Pharmaceuticals buys smart inhaler company Gecko Health Innovations

By Jonah Comstock
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CareTRxGeckoHealthTeva Pharmaceuticals will acquire Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Gecko Health Innovations (previously known as GeckoCap), a smart inhaler company. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gecko's main product is CareTRx a platform for chronic respiratory disease management that combines a sensor device that connects to most inhalers, a data analytics platform, an accessible user interface, and behavioral triggers to help asthma and COPD patients manage their condition.

Gecko Health Innovations founders Mark Maalouf and Dr. Yechiel Engelhard will work with Teva to explore ways to apply the CareTRx technology to Teva's product pipeline and portfolio of respiratory products with the goal of improving clinical outcomes.

Gecko was one of the early entries to the rapidly crowding smart inhaler space. The company began in 2012 as the winning team in an MIT Media Lab Health and Wellness Innovation event. The product that grew out of that event, called Gecko Cap, was aimed at kids and used gamification and rewards to help motivate them to use their inhaler.

At the start of 2015, based on feedback from doctors and parents, the cofounders decided to broaden their focus, both to include adults and to help with COPD as well as asthma. They launched the CareTRx brand to focus on these new areas, and are currently engaged in clinical trials with Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. They also previously worked with the Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

The GeckoCap circa 2013. The GeckoCap circa 2013.

The company has raised very little money beyond some seed funding from Healthbox, an accelerator it participated in early on, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. A 2013 crowdfunding campaign reached only 6 percent of its goal.

Pharma companies are known to be fast followers, and smart inhaler fever seemed to have gripped the industry lately.

Teva is the second pharmaceutical company to buy its own smart inhaler company, and several others have strong partnerships with similar groups. Last year, biopharmaceutical company Opko Health acquired Israeli smart inhaler company Inspiro Medical for a sum in “the low eight figures", Opko’s Director of Strategic Investment Les Funtleyder told MobiHealthNews at the time. He said that the company would be using Inspiro’s Inspiromatic technology to develop an app-connected inhaler that will be bundled with a forthcoming new drug for asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis.

In addition, AstraZeneca and Boehringer Ingelheim have also made some moves in the smart inhaler space. AstraZeneca made a $3 million investment in Adherium Limited, a New Zealand company working on a smart inhaler, and also announced an agreement in which AstraZeneca will incorporate it into its global patient support programs for patients with COPD and asthma. Initially, devices will be used to monitor patients’ therapy adherence and help guide them to improve, but in the future it might be used to assess patients’ personal risk factors and monitor their conditions.

Boehringer Ingelheim has a partnership, announced last year, with Propeller Health. In July, Propeller Health secured two new FDA clearances for new sensors designed to work with two particular inhalers on the market: the Diskus inhaler from GlaxoSmithKline and the Respimat inhaler from Boehringer Ingelheim. Propeller has no official relationship with GSK, however.

This isn't the first digital health news Teva has made this year either. In June, the company made an eight-figure investment in remote doctor visit provider American Well. At the time an Israeli publication obliquely alluded to a number of moves in the works for the company including "an inhaler that broadcasts information to a cellphone in order to make sure that the patient has taken his medicine on time and in the correct dosage; an application designed for doctors for reporting negative interactions between different drugs; and a digital support center for multiple sclerosis patients."

In September, IBM Watson Health announced a partnership with Teva. IBM wrote in a statement: “Teva will work with IBM on long-range platform and solutions development, with experts collaborating to enhance IBM Watson Health Cloud capabilities and explore synergies with existing Watson Health ecosystem partners. The company, which has one of the world’s largest portfolios of medicines, expects to develop solutions designed to collect and analyze real world evidence, draw powerful insights and inform a variety of initiatives such as reducing drug misuse or increasing prescribed medication adherence.”