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Asthma/COPD Device Maker Lands $14.5M in Venture Funds

Illustration of lungs (Mikael Häggström/Wikimedia Commons)

(Mikael Häggström/Wikimedia Commons)

5 September 2014. Propeller Health in Madison, Wisconsin, developer of a system to track respiratory disorder medications in real time, secured $14.5 million in its second round of venture financing. The funding round was led by venture investment company Safeguard Scientifics, with participation by the Social+Capital Partnership, Propeller Health’s previous funding source.

The Propeller Health system is designed to help people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD track their maintenance therapy. Asthma is chronic condition, where the airways become inflamed and narrow, causing people with asthma to experience wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing for periods of time. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2010 asthma 18.7 million adults had asthma, along with 7 million children.

COPD has symptoms resembling asthma, including wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness, but COPD is more of a progressive disease where the airways and air sacs in the lungs lose their flexibility, become inflamed, or make more mucus than usual, preventing blood vessels in the lungs to bring in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. There are two major forms of COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, together affecting at least 15 million people in the U.S., mainly over the age of 65, according to CDC.

People with asthma or COPD are asked to keep close track of their symptoms and events that trigger attacks or exacerbations that cause flare-ups of the symptoms, as well as record use of medications, such as rescue inhalers, to relieve those symptoms. With COPD in particular, exacerbations can make the disease progress faster and result in hospitalization. Keeping a diary, however, is an unreliable record and not easy for many people to maintain.

The Propeller Health system combines a medication sensor that fits over the the inhaler and measures the amount of medication administered with each use. Those data are captured in software on a smartphone app — iOS and Android versions are available — via a Bluetooth connection that adds the location with date and time, to provide an ongoing record of medication use. The software also allows patients to record symptoms. The data are then transmitted to parents and physicians, who can make any adjustments in the medications if warranted by these reports..

The company plans to apply the funding round’s proceeds to product development, new alliances, and marketing. In May 2014, FDA cleared a new version of the system with a smaller sensor to conserve battery life and more sophisticated analytics. In July, Arizona Care Network, an accountable care organization, began offering the Propeller Health system to its members with COPD. Accountable care organizations are groups of health care providers that voluntarily coordinate their services, particularly for patients with chronic diseases.

Safeguard Scientifics, in Wayne, Pennsylvania, is a venture investment company that specializes in growth-stage enterprises working in health or medical technologies developing innovative solutions, with intellectual property protection and a rapid path to commercialization. The company generally makes initial investments of $5 to $15 million.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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