Pharma company Opko acquires smart inhaler startup for at least $10M

By Jonah Comstock
09:01 am
The Inspiromatic inhaler. The Inspiromatic inhaler.

Biopharmaceutical company Opko Health has acquired Israeli smart inhaler company Inspiro Medical for a sum in "the low eight figures", according to Opko's Director of Strategic Investment Les Funtleyder. The company will 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.

"We are pleased to add this next generation inhaler to Opko's growing product portfolio," Dr. Phillip Frost, Opko's CEO and Chairman, said in a statement. "We expect this innovative device to play a valuable role in the improvement of therapy for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis and other respiratory diseases. We plan to use the Inspiromatic device to test the inhaled form of Opko's new sulfated disaccharide drug against these disorders. ... Of course, we believe that Inspiromatic can improve outcomes of treatment with other drugs, those presently available in more 'standard' type inhalers, as well as new inhalation drugs being developed. This acquisition fits our strategy of developing new products that address large markets in need of more effective therapeutic solutions." 

The inhaler has features that make it easier to use including an active powder de-agglomerator to ease inhalation and a microcontroller that better times the delivery of inhaled drugs. A connected app could be used to give near realtime feedback and instruction on proper use of the inhaler as well as to access data from sensors contained in the inhaler and to send that data to physicians, caretakers, or parents. The inhaler performed better than the gold standard in a small trial last year, according to the company.

There are a few smartphone-connected inhalers out there. Propeller Health uses GPS-connected inhalers to collect data about where and when patients have attacks, but their partnerships are mostly with providers. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based GeckoCap makes smart inhaler caps to track kids' adherence, but the company sells its product direct to consumer.

A smart inhaler play that comes from a pharmaceutical company, with the device bundled in with the cost of the drug, could be a game changer. And Funtleyder said the company is not opposed, in the future, to licensing the technology out to other pharmaceutical companies to use with their drugs as well.

"Opko is a very interesting company," Funtleyder said. "We’re doing pharma and diagnostics and we’re always looking to be on the edge in terms of improving quality via innovation. We’ve identified a number of problems in the inhaled medication space that we think we can solve. So now that we have this technology, we should use it. ... I don’t think this is the last thing we’ll do in this area. There’s a convergence between service, product devices, and diagnostics and we've recognized how important it is to be a part of that."

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