Understanding Connected Drug Delivery: Inhalers, Injectors, and Infinite Possibilities

Understanding Connected Drug Delivery: Inhalers, Injectors, and Infinite Possibilities

Between the rising global prevalence of chronic disease and a rapidly growing digital-first movement in healthcare, the development of connected drug delivery devices has increased significantly over the last several years. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the connected drug delivery devices market was experiencing steady growth. By the end of 2020, the market had grown 23.8% compared to the previous year.1 This expansion indicates that more than ever, embedding electronics and sensors into drug delivery devices including inhalers and injector pens is becoming more widely adopted. 

For pharmaceutical and life sciences organizations looking to keep up with these shifting demands, combining their drug delivery devices with connected capabilities and integrating them into broader digital ecosystems is critical.  

Why develop connected drug delivery devices?

Connected devices are proving to be an effective approach to modern-day drug delivery and chronic care management, especially as virtual and remote care options continue to expand.

Devices that can detect and capture data around patient-administered therapy, such as the time and volume of a dose, and/or ensure proper technique have the potential to benefit every stakeholder in healthcare, including patients, payers, providers, and pharmaceutical and life science companies. Embedded technology can support: 

Improved patient engagement and medication adherence

An essential component of chronic disease management is maintaining adequate medication and treatment adherence. Patients are more likely to take their medication on time if they have a record of dosing history and can be prompted to do so. 

Connected devices can remind patients to take their medications on time, automatically track dose delivery and timing, and offer instant feedback to patients. If connected to a digital health app, patients can also be prompted to refill medications or even set up automated refills in some instances.

The positive outcomes of these features have already been clinically proven. For example, patients with asthma who used an inhaler medication co-packed with a digital companion demonstrated improved medication adherence at 82%. Additionally, patients with COPD maintained an average medication adherence rate of 77% when using a connected inhaler.

Enhanced communication between providers and patients

The objective data collected from connected drug delivery devices can play an important role in aiding healthcare providers in their care provision, whether in-clinic or at home. 

In traditional health care settings, clinical decision-making often relies on subjective patient recall, posing a challenge for clinicians when trying to develop treatment plans. Connected devices can fill gaps in clinical understanding by passively capturing medication use data and relaying that information to clinicians in near real-time. 

If healthcare providers have access to patient data, they can provide more pointed patient education tailored to where on the disease journey the patient is, and based on adherence habits over time. And depending on the condition, when, where, and how often a patient takes their medication can translate into trends over time (such as with a rescue inhaler).

What goes into developing a connected drug delivery device?

Many connected drug delivery devices are available today, ranging from connected inhalers to injector pens. Although the “drug delivery” pieces of these devices have unique form factors, the “connected” pieces are fundamentally similar and serve the same basic functions – detecting and recording unique signals.  

The mechanical and technological elements that make a sensor work 

One of the reasons connected drug delivery devices are so appealing to pharmaceutical and life sciences companies is because of their high impact and substantial return for a comparatively low investment. At its core, a connected device embedded with a sensor will consist of:

  • An enclosure: Whether integrated into a medication device or built as an add-on that can easily be attached and removed from an existing medication device, an enclosure must stay attached when intended and should not impact the design, usability, or storage components of the medication. 
  • Electronics: These are the elements that enable wireless connectivity (such as BluetoothTM microcontrollers), power management, user interfacing (e.g., buttons or LED lights), and sensing elements for medication use and technique detection. Depending on the device, these elements may involve a number of sensing mechanisms: limit switches, infrared, microphones, accelerometers, temperature gauges, and pressure.
  • Firmware: Firmware components enable data storage, BluetoothTM communication with compatible devices (such as a companion app on a mobile device), and additional user interface features. 

These sensor elements will apply broadly to different connected devices, regardless of the delivery device’s form factor or the condition the drug compound is intended to treat. 

Though conceptually simple, development of such sensors requires considerations that make them complex in practice: assembly techniques, tolerance stackups, material properties, component sourcing and availability, and sensor physics among others. Once developed, usability studies, tooling, testing, validation, filing, assembly line setup, and refinement further their complexity. As such, pharmaceutical and life science companies already leveraging digital approaches to drug delivery may be uniquely positioned to scale their products more quickly, across several disease areas, and with any delivery device.

What does the future of connected drug delivery look like?

The global connected drug delivery devices market size was valued at $214 million (USD) in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 46.7% from 2021 to 2028.1

Within the connected drug delivery device market, the integrated devices segment is also expected to observe a significant market demand.2

Bar graph depicting connected drug delivery devices market size between 2020 and 2027 by device type

It is becoming increasingly critical for pharmaceutical and life sciences organizations to integrate connected devices into their R&D pipelines now if they are to successfully keep up with the market, differentiate themselves among competitors, and leverage data collection. 

Interested in learning more about how Propeller can help your organization integrate connected drug delivery? Email partnerships@propellerhealth.com

Attending the ERS International Congress 2022? Register for our exclusive education session on connected drug delivery devices.


1 Grand View Research, Market Report, 2021-2028
2 Global Market Insights, Market Report, 2021-2027