Boehringer Ingelheim - Propeller Health

Big Data is transforming drug delivery, especially when it comes to inhalers for asthma/COPD. One study found that only 7% of patients use their inhaler in conformance with the optimal administration technique; others forget to take their medication altogether.

CVS Health ($CVS) CEO Larry Merlo has said that medication nonadherence is costing the healthcare system about $300 billion per year in unnecessary costs, and Boehringer Ingelheim's alliance with Propeller Health is an attempt to solve the classic medical problem by providing and collecting information about real-life usage of inhalers.

Wisconsin's Propeller Health is developing Bluetooth-enabled sensors that can attach to Boehringer's Respimat inhalers. The company is expecting FDA's 510(k) clearance for the sensor soon, Chief Operating Officer Chris Hogg told FierceDrugDelivery in an interview.  

The device will be compatible only with Boehringer's Respimat inhalers. Like Propeller's Bluetooth sensor for general metered-dose inhalers, the planned accessory will be free to consumers. Third-party payers like Boehringer, but also insurers and accountable care organizations, pay for the sensors to gain competitive advantage or lower the overall cost of care with the help of Big Data.   

Propellers' downloadable iPhone and iPod app uses the sensor data to give feedback on ways to self-manage the breathing conditions. Officials from both sides described the partnership in September at the Health 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, CA.

"It means things like being able to deliver subtle audiovisual cues when the medication hasn't been used and the time for a dose has passed," said Propeller Health CEO David Van Sickle, according to MobiHealthNews. "Or predicting when someone is leaving their home and giving them an alert so they can take a moment to go back and get their morning dose. It means the sensors sort of knowing how much medication is remaining and suggesting an appropriate time for refilling the prescription. And it means thinking about ways to put information about the daily use of these medications to work, to think of ways we can reward individuals intrinsically and extrinsically to motivate better adherence."

In a twist, Larry Brooks, Boehringer's director of business innovation, who looks for innovative healthcare technologies, doesn't want the company's alliance with Propeller Health to be exclusive.

"I always look at it from a customer perspective, and if I go to a health plan and I tell them that I have a solution for our inhaler, but you can't get it for any other inhaler and you have to work with a different company for that, it's not going to take off," he said, according to MobiHealthNews. "So I would love it if David struck a deal with three or four of the other leading pharma companies in respiratory and we came to these payers with a whole package solution that included both brand and generic medication and any form factor the medication was delivered in."

Propeller COO Chris Hogg

During the interview, Hogg elaborated on the company's technology.

The app gives personalized advice and coaching like "looks like you've been forgetting to take the inhaler more on Monday morning," he said. It also reminds patients to use their inhaler and alerts physicians when there is an uptick in use of the rescue inhaler for sudden asthma attacks, as opposed to the inhaler for regular use. Information is collected in a "passive" manner so the patient and caregiver don't have to perform extra work in order to benefit from the sensor.

Hogg said monitoring technique is harder than tracking usage, but Propeller is working on adding technology to the sensor that can help it track how much of the medication was actually inhaled. That feature won't be part of the product being developed with Boehringer.

In a related effort, startup Cohero Health and app developer LifeMap Solutions have separate projects with New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital to study and deploy their data collection apps for the study and self-management of asthma and COPD.

-- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)

For more:
LifeMap CEO: Apple's ResearchKit 'unshackles science from brick-and-mortar constraints'
Study: Patients don't know how to use drug delivery devices
CoheroHealth to pilot asthma inhaler sensor and app at Mount Sinai Medical Center
Boehringer pilots inhalers with sensors to encourage patient adherence
Microsoft, Aerocrine partner to send asthma device data to the cloud
Propeller Health gets $14.5M Series B for smart inhaler, app combo

Boehringer Ingelheim - Propeller Health