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BreatheSuite to expand product line after attracting $1.2-million in new investment
A Newfoundland tech company can breathe easier with a solid round of financing in its back pocket, carrying itself into 2021 with a shot at expanding a product line that strives to, likewise, help people breathe easier.
BreatheSuite, a St. John’s start-up founded in 2018, recently attracted $1.2 million in investment, led by the public-private Venture NL capital fund and Killick Capital, along with other private investors.
BreatheSuite produces an inhaler add-on that communicates information in real-time with a mobile app, helping the user understand how effectively they’re using the device to take medicine.
Brett Vokey learned about the awareness gap surrounding inhaler technique during a previous job where he shadowed health-care workers. According to studies in the United States, users of metered-dose inhalers make mistakes between 70 and 90 per cent of the time, resulting in less medicine reaching their lungs. These inhalers are commonly used for treatment of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other chronic lung diseases.
“Inhaler technique is most commonly explained using four metrics,” Vokey said. “Making sure you shake it beforehand. Making sure you’re orienting it correctly in your mouth. Inhaling at the right time — you need to press down on the canister and start inhaling at the same time. And also, inhaling for long enough — after you press the canister, keep inhaling for three seconds. Those are the four most common technique errors, and all of those errors are captured using our device as well.”
With a background in engineering, Vokey did some tinkering with an early version of the device that paved the way for starting his own medtech company. BreatheSuite’s technology tracks the four metrics previously mentioned for assessing inhaler technique through sensor technology and shares that information with the app, offering a score between one and 100 and feedback on what the user did right and wrong.
“What the repercussions would be for the patient is, you take a dose and you think you’re getting that medication,” he explained. “But in reality, that medication doesn’t actually reach your lungs. Obviously, the trickle-down effect of that is not getting the medication you’re being prescribed, which can result in higher flare ups. It can result in higher ER visits. Higher hospitalizations. All these aspects that could be controlled if patients were simply doing it right.”
Progress has been made to find international partners that can get BreatheSuite’s product into the hands of patients. Late last year, the company announced its first round of external patient testing in the United States. BreatheSuite now has 14 employees and expects to hire more people in 2021. A big component of the company’s plans for the new year centre around developing add-ons for other inhalers used for COPD management, including turbuhalers and the BREO ELLIPTA inhaler.
“That’s our two next steps — expand our reach to get more patients on our platform, but also continue to innovate and create more products to reach more patients,” Vokey said.
Part of the latest round of financing for BreatheSuite will also support a product testing project for people in Newfoundland and Labrador who may benefit from using the company’s devices. Interested participants can get involved by visiting the company’s website at breathesuite.com.
Beyond being pleased to witness his company’s growth, Vokey is excited about the technology ecosystem of Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole.
“I think we’re showing on a worldwide stage, especially with Verafin, that our tech ecosystem is just as good as anywhere,” he said, mentioning the local tech juggernaut sold to Nasdaq last year in a US$2.75-billion transaction. “Not only across Canada, but really anywhere across the world. I think building on that momentum that’s coming out of the entire Newfoundland tech ecosystem, more and more people are being excited about tech.”
Additionally, companies like Vokey’s are in an enviable position, taking on a challenge that not only contributes to the growth of BreatheSuite, but also improves people’s lives. He said employees at BreatheSuite appreciate that.
“That’s constantly been a driver for everybody who has joined, and I think hopefully we can continue that momentum going forward.”
Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John's.
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