Award for reminder device in asthma research

24 September 2015
Image of Amy Chan receives the 2015 Value of Medicines Award from the Minister of Health, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman.
Amy Chan receives the 2015 Value of Medicines Award from the Minister of Health, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman.

University of Auckland doctoral candidate Amy Chan was recently presented with the 2015 Value of Medicines Award for her research to help children with asthma.

The Value of Medicines Award (made by Medicines NZ) of $20,000 encourages and rewards research into medicines and vaccines in New Zealand.

Amy’s research focused on New Zealand children with severe asthma, and investigated how audio-visual reminders on asthma inhalers and adherence feedback helped children to take their preventative dose on time.

The smart reminder device, or SmartinhalerTM, (developed and manufactured by Adherium Limited), lets the user know when they miss a dose with an alarm using a variety of different sounds and music.

“It was great to get the award, because it brought this device to the attention of so many key players in the health sector from the Ministry to pharmaceutical companies,” says Amy. “We need to get it to the people who need it most.”

“Amy Chan’s research clearly demonstrates the partnership between medicines and adherence support technologies” said Medicines New Zealand Chair, Heather Roy. Her research was chosen as it had the ability to benefit a large number of people quickly.

“This research is of great value to New Zealanders as asthma affects one in four children and families,” says Amy. “Results were impressive - showing a significant increase in adherence to their prescribed inhalers in those that used the reminder device, compared to those that did not.”

“This work has the potential to revolutionise asthma patient outcomes by reinforcing for patients that when they adhere to their medication, they will receive the full benefit.”

“It really shows the value of medicines - as kids that used their preventer inhaler regularly were able to get out and do more, play more sports and have less asthma attacks, coughing and wheezing.

“Families also felt less frightened about their child's asthma. I hope that this device will be made available to the kids that need it, to help them remember to take their inhalers, so they no longer need to suffer from their asthma,” says Amy.

Asthma inhaler with Smartinhaler TM medication sensor from Adherium Ltd
Asthma inhaler with Smartinhaler TM medication sensor from Adherium Ltd

The SmartinhalerTM devices are manufactured in New Zealand by Adherium Ltd, led by founder and CEO Garth Sutherland. The company recently raised A$35 million in an IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange to accelerate the international commercialisation of its devices via global supply and distribution agreements.

The first of these was signed in July with leading biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, for the supply of devices for their leading respiratory therapies.

“From my research, we know the device makes a difference, especially for children with severe asthma, so it is ethically responsible to try and roll out production,” says Amy. “I’ve had a lot of parents asking for it, so it’s difficult that it’s not available yet. We have enough research evidence to say that the concept of real-time reminders works.”

“Now we have to face the practicalities of how we are going to get this out to the population,” says Amy. “The key concepts that make it work for asthma sufferers are that the reminders are on the asthma medication,” she says.

“It’s training the user to respond to the sounds coming from the inhaler with an action – taking their dose,” she says. “This is what makes it successful.”

“Children with severe asthma are often the worst medication takers and the ones most in need,” she says. “Our research targeted the children who were taken to hospital emergency departments with an asthma attack. We followed up 220 children and worked hard to keep them in the study for six months, revisiting them often and after school.

“The low drop-out rate from the research enabled us to show the impact of this intervention for children, and their families were grateful,” says Amy.

Her research work on the device was funded by the Health Research Council and Cure Kids. Amy intends to use the Value of Medicines award sum directly for ongoing research on optimising health outcomes for patients.

“Whilst there are many effective medications and many new technologies that have been developed to support healthcare, we must remember there is a human at the end of all this who needs to be the one who takes these medications and uses the technologies,” she says.

“I’m now focused on the human-related factors that might affect how medicines and technologies are used and what we can do to support this,” says Amy. “The publicity and award has definitely spurred me to undertake more research - it is always motivating and encouraging knowing there is so much interest in our research on both a regional and international level.”

Her new research ideas are around patient-focused health strategies and how to optimize health outcomes by supporting patient health behaviours - either through increasing adherence, health literacy or other behaviours.

“We recently completed a pilot project around health literacy (which won the Max Health Award at the recent NZ Hospital Pharmacists Association conference). I’ll be using that award to attend a conference in Melbourne to find out how we might implement a health literacy initiative here in New Zealand”, says Amy.

For media enquiries email Suzi Phillips at this link.