Novartis and Qualcomm to develop ‘smart device’ COPD inhaler


Novartis and Qualcomm are to develop a 'smart' COPD inhaler to allow patients to digitally monitor their medication.

The announcement follows similar plans by Novartis's rivals in the respiratory field, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), but the Swiss firm says its concept will be the first to offer a 'completely integrated' and connected device.

Novartis will work with technology giant Qualcomm on a next-generation version of its Breezhaler inhaler, which will contain a chip, allowing patients to record and monitor data on their inhaler in near-real time.

The chip will report when and how often the inhaler is used, and then wirelessly send the data to the patient's smartphone and a Novartis COPD mobile application. The information will then be sent on to the cloud, allowing patients - and potentially their healthcare providers - to monitor their COPD.

The concept is just one in a wave of new 'smart' devices which will be able to collect 'real-world' data and help patients manage their conditions better.

Poor compliance in diseases such as COPD means patients don't get the full benefit from their medicines, frequently leading to expensive hospital treatment.

However the new Breezhaler won't be available to patients until 2019 – reflecting the numerous technological hurdles and questions around data handling and privacy which must be addressed.

"Novartis supports patients being empowered to make it easier for them to manage their chronic conditions," said David Epstein, Head Novartis Pharmaceuticals. "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."

However it's not the only major pharma company working on such a project – medical device firm Propeller Health specialises in smart devices in respiratory medicine, and is already working with GSK and BI.

The US FDA granted approval to Propeller's digital health solution last year – first in March with BI's Respimat, and then in July with GSK's Diskus.

Novartis clearly aims to go one better than the Propeller device, but the long wait until 2019 will allow plenty of time for rival platforms to develop.

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Linda Banks

6 January, 2016