Smoking-related illnesses kill more than 400,000 Americans each year, including a relative of Guy DiPierro, the founder of Chrono Therapeutics, a startup that raised $32 million to develop a wearable drug delivery and treatment technology to help smokers quit.
The technology, based on research acquired out of laboratories in Geneva, has been in development for several years and has attracted the support of lead investors Canaan Partners and 5AM Ventures in addition to commitments from Fountain Healthcare Partners, the Mayo Clinic and GE Ventures.
“Smoking costs people their health and eventually their lives, but current technologies like nicotine gums and patches are not effective in enabling smokers to quit permanently, because they do not address the cyclical nature of nicotine cravings and offer little to no behavioral support,” said Dr. Alan Levy, a serial entrepreneur and the chief executive of Chrono. “We believe we have a very compelling technology that will solve many of the problems that make smoking cessation so difficult.”
Chrono has developed a two-pronged approach to treating smoking addiction. It includes a programmable nicotine replacement therapy that delivers targeted doses of nicotine ahead of an individual’s craving, instead of when they’re actually jonesing for a smoke, according to Dr. Levy.
Research shows that smokers have peak cravings during certain times, usually in the morning when smokers first wake up, around meal times, and then in the evening. The Chrono Therapeutics wearable technology can deliver nicotine at intervals throughout the day to suppress those cravings.
Additionally, the company offers real-time behavioral support that encourages smokers throughout the day. The device uses Bluetooth technology to link up with the SmartStop digital support program, an application providing real-time guidance to help smokers cope with cravings as well as a means for promoting compliance to the replacement therapy and with the overall (terrible, terrible) process of quitting.
Although the company is launching with a device to treat addiction to smoking, Dr. Levy sees applications that range far beyond kicking the nicotine habit. He says that the company’s technology can be used to treat other diseases from addiction to prescription medication to Parkinson’s disease and several other illnesses.
Smoking is a good place to start, according to Levy, because the treatment regime is already well understood, and it will take far less time to go through the approval process with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s also responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S. and costs the U.S. healthcare system — and by extension the U.S. taxpayer — billions.
In fact, the Affordable Care Act has made smoking-cessation treatments reimbursable for the first time, meaning that the market for these treatments can only expand. And already nearly 23 million smokers try to quit each year.
With Dr. Levy at the helm, the company has a good chance of going the distance, according to Canaan Partners general partner, Wende Hutton. “I first backed Alan [Levy] 20 years ago as the CEO of HeartStream,” says Hutton. “I backed him again in his next startup called Northstar Neuroscience. Anything Alan is involved with is always something I take very seriously.”
Before the round had closed, Chrono had already received a tremendous vote of confidence in the form of a $2.25 million grant from the National Cancer Institute division of the U.S. National Institute of Health. It was the first time NIH has issued an initial Fast Track Phase I/Phase II grant for a programmable nicotine replacement therapy.
“We think the platform does have tremendous potential,” says Hutton. “The addition here which is quite unique is not only an optimized drug delivery vehicle, which we have seen in different formats, but the ability to send that information and turn that into some form of utility… Those are the pivots — where we can take a known efficacious drug, deliver it in a more convenient and efficacious way, and optimize that with the ability for patient feedback, behavior modification, and the ability for coaching.”
And while other wearable health technologies are trying to avoid regulatory oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, Hutton says there’s value in getting the regulatory seal of approval. “We’re working with a team that has no fear of the FDA. By navigating those waters, I count having a wearable with the FDA approval label a good thing.”
Image via Ken Hawkins