Propeller, Boehringer Ingelheim expand into broad commercial partnership

By Jonah Comstock
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Propeller Health and Boehringer Ingelheim announced a new commercial partnership. Under the partnership, COPD and asthma patients using Boehringer's Respimat inhaler will have the opportunity to enroll in a program at select health systems that will monitor their adherence via a Propeller sensor and improve their engagement in their health. 

"So far we have developed a popular Bluetooth-enabled sensor that wraps around the Respimat device," Ruchin Kansal, executive director and head of business innovation at BI. "It’s a proprietary soft mist platform that has been shown to be highly effective in delivery of medication for the patient. What this sensor allows is to actively track patient behavior around their medication. And through that tracking, it can create a dialogue with the patient or connect the patient and the provider to a support service. The object of our current partnership is to create some of the real-world market experience of our technology so the providers will be willing to provide it, the patients will be willing to adopt a sensor and basically drive adherence."

Patients will be able to enroll for free in the program. According to Propeller Health, it's the first commercial agreement of its kind in the smart inhaler space, in which a big pharma company is broadly commercializing a digital health offering. 

The partnership builds on a longstanding relationship between the two companies. The two teamed up to pilot a sensor connected to the Respimat inhaler back in the fall of 2014. At the time, Larry Brooks, the director of the New Business Model and Healthcare Innovation group at Boehringer Ingelheim, explained BI's strategy for innovation.

"We look to explore various models that we think could fit into our prescription medicine business," he said at the time. "We don’t look to these to generate independent revenue streams outside of our prescription medicine business, but instead how do we optimize the current business? And once we finalize that qualitative business case or model, then we’ll move to some kind of test to validate whether it works. So instead of doing what pharma typically does, which I think is look at a $100,000 opportunity and do $200,000 of market research, we just say let’s just do this and we’ll learn through that process how people in the ecosystem view this and whether it really is something that would work. And at the end we analyze these results and know whether it’s something that should be scaled."

In July 2015, Propeller announced that it had secured FDA clearance for the Respimat sensor, as well as for a sensor for GSK's Diskus inhaler. In addition to Boehringer Ingelheim, Propeller is working with GSK and Aptar pharma in different kinds of partnerships.

"We are excited to work with Boehringer Ingelheim to bring Propeller to people with asthma and COPD at health systems across the US," Propeller CEO David Van Sickle said in a statement. "Together, we believe that digital tools can complement the use of respiratory medications and encourage more appropriate and effective management of chronic respiratory disease."