Teva snaps up Gecko and its 'smart inhaler' to pump up respiratory meds

Getting patients to stick to their meds is a big problem in treating pulmonary diseases. So to boost adherence for its respiratory portfolio, Teva Pharmaceuticals ($TEVA) is turning to technology.

The Israel-based drugmaker recently snapped up "smart" inhaler company Gecko Health Innovations, and at the center of the deal is Gecko's CareTRx, a cloud-based solution for chronic respiratory disease management. The hardware and software system connects patients, caregivers and doctors through remoting monitoring and real-time adherence tools, Teva said.

"Poor adherence to treatments for chronic diseases, such as asthma and COPD, is a worldwide problem," a Teva spokesperson wrote FiercePharmaMarketing in an email interview. "CareTrx provides dose-tracking and reminder features for one of the most common types of inhalers, metered dose inhalers (MDIs), along with intuitive applications and cloud-connected technology which can be a powerful tool for improving patient adherence and enabling data-sharing between patients and their healthcare providers."

CareTRx sensor for inhalers--Courtesy of CareTRx

The deal comes as drugmakers are increasingly looking to "beyond-the-pill" strategies to gain a competitive edge, particularly in gaining favorable reimbursement from payers. Adherence can be a big part of that: Companies are experimenting with digital devices, mobile apps, text messaging and other strategies to help keep patients on their meds.

While studies vary, experts agree that respiratory nonadherence, both intentional and unintentional, is high, with rates that range from 30% to 70%. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reports that "there is a tremendous care gap in asthma due to low adherence, resulting in a preventable economic and health burden."

Teva's current portfolio of respiratory drugs includes ProAir and Qvar. In its most recent quarterly report, Teva noted that for the 6 months ending in June 2015, ProAir brought in $252 million and Qvar $181 million. For full year 2014, the branded Teva respiratory drugs totaled $957 million, with $478 million for ProAir and $286 million for Qvar.

In the competitive respiratory market, Teva's main competitors are GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and AstraZeneca ($AZN). In Europe, Teva is rolling out a generic of AstraZeneca's widely used Symbicort. In the U.S., Teva is developing an asthma antibody biologic called reslizumab, although GSK and AZ are also well along in developing their own versions.

While not offering any details about how it will use the Gecko technology, Teva did say that the acquisition is "directly in-line" with its respiratory growth strategy. "The technology and expertise gained as a result of this acquisition provide Teva with a solid platform to develop and deliver truly patient-centered solutions by utilizing eConnected, data-driven technology to improve the management of respiratory diseases," Teva said.

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