Propeller Health Raises $21.5M for Respiratory Disease Technology

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

The winds continue to blow in Propeller Health’s favor.

In the past year, Madison, WI-based Propeller—which makes Internet-connected inhalers and sensors designed to help asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients manage their conditions—has announced several new partnerships and programs with other healthcare organizations, including some large pharmaceutical companies.

Now comes news that the 55-employee startup has raised $21.5 million from investors to bring its digital respiratory medicine platform to more patients across the country and around the world.

David Van Sickle, co-founder and CEO of Propeller, tells Xconomy that years of monitoring of how patients use their sensor-equipped devices gives the company a better understanding of how certain regimens work for certain people. Now Propeller wants to put that knowledge to work.

“Where we’re headed is using the accumulated data collected from these medications, as well as information about their environment, about their comorbidities, from patient surveys, and so on to make recommendations about exactly what type of regimen might work best for this patient at this moment in time,” Van Sickle explains.

New investors in the Series C financing round include 3M Ventures, based in the Twin Cities, and two U.K.-based groups: Hikma Ventures and SR One, a life sciences-focused corporate VC arm of the U.K. pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK). Some of the other participants were previous backers Safeguard Scientifics (NYSE: SFE), based in the Philadelphia area, and Palo Alto, CA-based Social Capital.

Propeller has now raised more than $45 million since launching in 2010, Van Sickle says. The majority of the money the startup had raised previously came in a $14.5 million Series B round in 2014.

Van Sickle declined to comment on the valuation Propeller received as part of the latest financing, or reveal what his company’s revenues were for 2015.

Asthma and COPD affect the lives of more than 50 million Americans, Propeller says.

The startup has made a number of commercial agreements to get the sensor-equipped inhalers it helps build into more patients’ hands. Propeller’s partners include Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Aptar Pharma, and Vectura Group.

The sensors Propeller makes are compatible with several different types of inhalers, including metered-dose, soft mist, and dry powder. The startup says that a majority of inhaled medications can now be connected to its digital platform, which combines sensors, mobile apps, and software analytics.

While Van Sickle sounds excited about the potential uses for the data his company’s products help gather, he says Propeller does not have any plans to abandon hardware and focus only on software.

“From my point of view, Propeller will always be this hardware and software combination that really thinks about the confluence of those worlds,” he says. “We have lots of opportunities today think about new ways in which the digital-physical combination that respiratory makes possible can be made more patient- and physician-friendly, and to deliver value in new ways inside and outside the home.”

One thing industry observers may be keeping an eye on following Thursday’s announcement is Propeller’s relationship with 3M (NYSE: MMM). The manufacturer of household, office, and medical products earlier this year introduced a connected inhaler that 3M says can provide instructions and feedback to patients and those who care for them.

Van Sickle says that for now, 3M is strictly an investor in Propeller. But there’s always the chance that their relationship could expand in the future, he says.

“We were excited to see them embracing the idea of adding connectivity to [inhalers],” Van Sickle says. “I think it’s certainly possible to imagine that down the road, the companies would work together.”