Stiff Competition to Create a Smarter Inhaler

JULY 10, 2016
Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the role of digital health in the way we treat pulmonary diseases with inhalers.
One company I introduced in that article was Adherium Limited, which had partnered with AstraZeneca to bring its SmartInhaler to market. Since then, other companies—including those outside of the traditional pharma space—have shown interest in changing metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) or adding digital health technology to current inhalers.
A prime example is Post-it maker 3M, which in April 2016 announced plans to start developing a smart inhaler. 3M Drug Delivery Systems will be working to introduce its Intelligent Inhaler to the market by developing a partnership with pharmaceutical companies.

Photo Credit: 3M

This inhaler offers several advantages over current MDIs. One is the controlled inspiration actuation that’s built into the device to provide consistent drug delivery to the patient when inhaling, which sounds similar to how the works. Another is the built-in screen on the device that displays the number of remaining doses, offers feedback to the patient on technique and instructions, and captures inspiration data that can be linked to a mobile device and shared with a health care provider.

Finding space on pharmacy shelves for products like the Intelligent Inhaler will be the key challenge in the next few years. Although using smart inhalers in clinical trials makes a lot of sense in terms of capturing more objective data and assessing adherence, the value for real-world patients is arguable. Other main issues with smarter medications coming to market include insurance coverage and integration of the devices’ data points into clinical care.
In any event, it’s quite fascinating to watch technology changing products that have been around for some time, and it leaves me wondering what will come next. Personally, I’m waiting to see if the same developments will be made for insulin pens in the near future.

Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at, is a Co-Host of a podcast part of the Pharmacy Podcast Network, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.