Propeller and Novartis collaborate to develop add-on sensor for COPD treatments

By Heather Mack
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Digital respiratory health management company Propeller Health is collaborating with Novartis to develop a custom add-on sensor for the Swiss pharmaceutical company’s Breezhaler inhaler, which is used for Novartis’s portfolio of COPD treatments. The partnership will be focused in Europe.

The add-on sensor will be developed to work with the capsule-based dry powder inhaler by passively recording and transmitting compliance data to provide information through the Propeller Digital Respiratory Therapy platform to users and their doctors about medication adherence and other factors affecting treatment.

This marks Propeller’s fifth major pharma partnership. With existing agreements with Boehringer Ingelheim and GSK, Propeller’s collaboration with Novartis rounds out the portfolio to include three of the top five respiratory pharma companies for asthma and COPD.

“This represents a bring-your-own-device strategy, as we think about Propeller as a software solution,” Propeller CEO David Van Sickle told MobiHealthNews. “This is just one more of the major pharma companies who are now using Propeller as a common digital interface.”

As the Novartis partnership will be focused in Europe, with Europe-only-approved medications, the company isn’t talking about US regulatory pathways at this time, but Propeller already has eight FDA clearances for its smart inhaler sensors, which work to help patients and their physicians better manage and understand asthma and COPD through connected apps. The company’s digitally-guided therapy platform, which was cleared by the FDA in 2014, pulls information from various sources, like connected medications, then leverages machine intelligence to personalize recommendations for individuals.

The goal, of course, is to connect all inhaled medications to the Propeller platform, with the hopes of establishing the company as the universal platform for respiratory digital health.

“Respiratory pharma is quickly digitizing,” Van Sickle said. “It’s ongoing and accelerating, and it’s one of the fastest-moving areas in pharma’s involvement in digital health for a bunch of reasons.”

For one, Van Sickle said, it’s an easier market to approach digitally. Also, respiratory conditions are characterized by fairly poor medication adherence rates in spite of successful drug options, so the impact to pharma’s bottom line is significant.

“The complexity of bringing signals to the network are less than another therapeutic area may be,” he said. “The development of add-on sensors provides a way to quickly connect. And we have a lot of drugs that can be really effective and a lot of opportunity to have beneficial effects for pharma. Simple things like that are responsible for the growth in this market.”

Since its founding in 2010, the company has solidly been part of that growth.  In 2015, two clearances two clearances pushed them past simple tracking of medication adherence to actually improving it, and the past 12 months have been particularly fruitful. The company now counts over 45 programs signed on with them, including healthcare systems like Dignity Health, Molina and Nemours Children’s Health System.

In December, the company partnered with Italian health technology company Medical International Research to offer mobile and clinical spirometers alongside the Propeller system. That move enabled Propeller to obtain a more complete vision of people using their platform, and allowed healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical partners using Propeller to incorporate MIR spirometers into their existing clinical programs.