Madison, Wisconsin-based Propeller Health, formerly known as Asthmapolis, has raised $14.5 million in a round of funding led by Safeguard Scientifics with participation from return backer The Social+Capital Partnership. Propeller has also hired Practice Fusion's Chris Hogg as its first COO, and he'll head up the company's new San Francisco office.
The smart inhaler company's devices and companion apps offer geographic mapping of inhaler use and asthma triggers as well as adherence tracking and early warning alerts for COPD patients.
"The funding supports the mission we are already on: to bring sensors to the full variety of the inhaled medications that are used for chronic respiratory disease," Propeller Health CEO David Van Sickle told MobiHealthNews in an interview. "We are already well down that path... but the respiratory pipeline is fairly active. We are seeing new medications, therapies, and form factors."
In May Propeller received FDA clearance for its COPD offering. The new platform aims to help users prevent so-called “asthma attacks” or similar lung inflammation symptoms caused by COPD. The Propeller Metered-Dose Inhaler measures a patient’s use of their rescue inhaler. That data is automatically compared to a patient’s baseline and to general clinical guidelines, and the app can alert care teams if an attack seems likely.
"In addition software development, as we take on more COPD programs, we have a broad spectrum of demographics that we have to cover with our products and services," Van Sickle said. "So we are building out teams to support the usability and experience of not only kids with respiratory disease but elderly folks with respiratory disease, caregivers, new enterprise teams for care managers which are on their own evolving with the times and new healthcare arrangements."
Propeller is also using some of the funds to build out its client services teams and sales staff, which has been relatively small to date, Van Sickle said.
One of the company's recently announced customers was an accountable care organization partly owned by Propeller partner Dignity Health: Arizona Care Network, an ACO formed by Dignity Health and Tenet’s Abrazo Health, recently announced that it would offer its chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients the FDA-cleared, wireless-enabled inhaler and companion program developed by Propeller. The deal marked the first ACO deal for Propeller and one of the few publicly disclosed mobile health customer wins involving an ACO.
"We are [seeing interest from other ACOs] but it depends a lot on what type of ACO, right?" Van Sickle said. "[It depends on] how far they are along in their own life course and whether they have developed a budget for innovations investment yet. For a while there was just a lot of groundwork that needed to be laid down to make those kinds of investments. Now we are seeing that change a bit."
Propeller is seeing a lot of interest in COPD programs, Van Sickle said, partly driven by the market forces in healthcare incentivizing providers to reduce readmissions for COPD patients in particular.
Propeller's new Chief Operating Officer -- the company's first ever COO -- was Practice Fusion's Associate Vice President of Data Sciences. Hogg joined Practice Fusion in early 2013 after the company acquired his consumer-facing startup 100Plus, which was incubated at Practice Fusion and partially funded by Practice Fusion CEO Ryan Howard, but otherwise a separate business pre-acquisition.
"Chris brings first and foremost a really interesting mix of skills and experience -- both the academic experience he's had and the commercial experience in pharma, data analytics, and fielding a digital health company," Van Sickle said. "For me [Chris' hire] echoes and foreshadows a shift in digital health toward the therapeutic approach and how we need to build digital health interventions that -- hopefully -- have a real focus on delivering improvement and outcome and less on engagement for its own sake. Chris has lived and practiced a lot of what we are trying to do and he has the operating mojo that we want to bring to this company. He's a great fit and we're really excited to have him."