Novartis matches respiratory rivals with 'smart inhaler' collaboration

Last month, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) struck a deal aimed at creating a "smart inhaler" that could help give the respiratory player a marketing advantage in a competitive space. And now--not to be outdone--rival Novartis ($NVS) has a smart inhaler deal of its own.

The Swiss drugmaker is collaborating with Qualcomm Life to develop the next generation of the Breezhaler inhaler, used with each of the meds in Novartis' COPD portfolio. The new-age product will be able to record information including the time the inhaler is used--and then send it wirelessly to patients' smartphones and to the cloud, allowing patients and their healthcare providers to monitor their condition.

"Novartis supports patients being empowered to make it easier for them to manage their chronic conditions," Novartis' pharma chief, David Epstein, said in a statement. "By enabling near real time data capture from the patient and the connected Breezhaler device, patients can monitor their own adherence to the medication they take, which is vital to their health outcomes." 

The announcement comes on the heels of a similar accord struck by GSK, which teamed up with Wisconsin's Propeller Health in December to create a custom sensor for Glaxo's Ellipta inhaler. The sensor will be used in clinical studies in asthma and COPD, automatically collecting data and sending it straight to GSK's investigators to advance their "understanding of disease and inform our decision-making in the development of new medicines," Dave Allen, GSK's SVP of respiratory R&D, said in a statement at the time.

Novartis and Glaxo aren't the only ones to look to tech for a leg up in the crowded respiratory field. Back in 2013, Propeller inked a similar pact with Boehringer Ingelheim; Teva ($TEVA) recently nabbed Massachusetts' Gecko Health Innovations; and Symbicort-maker AstraZeneca ($AZN) is working with New Zealand's Adherium.

Expect such moves to continue, PwC's Health Research Institute said in a recent report. "Drug companies are looking beyond traditional M&A by acquiring 'beyond-the-pill' products and services to bolster their portfolios and pipelines," it said.

For Novartis' part, it'll be hoping the innovation helps LAMA/LABA drug Ultibro Breezhaler keep its European lead on GSK's Anoro Ellipta. The Basel-based pharma's product was the first in its class to reach the market on its home continent, winning EMA approval in September 2013. 

- read Novartis' release

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