Rock Health Backs Chrono Therapeutics’ Anti-Smoking Wearable

Chrono Therapeutics, a startup whose wearable device called SmartStop delivers nicotine doses through the skin to help smokers quit, now has the backing of Rock Health, a noted seed stage investor in the growing digital health field.

Hayward, CA-based Chrono, which raised $32 million in a Series A financing round in June, will get another $100,000 from Rock Health. But Chrono will also benefit from support and contacts within Rock Health’s network. The San Francisco-based fund, which specializes in digital health, has been helping to guide health apps that may cross into the territory covered by government regulators.

Back in 2013, Rock Health was issuing guidance to digital health app developers about the Food and Drug Administration’s early attempts to decide how such products would be regulated. In August, Rock Health invested in Brooklyn, NY-based Aptible, one of the companies helping digital health startups cope with the requirements of a federal law, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which protects the privacy of patients’ health information.

“Rock Health’s mission is directly aligned with our vision of transforming disease and addiction management through digital health technology, and we’re thrilled to have them onboard as an investor,” said Chrono CEO Alan Levy in a statement Tuesday announcing that the company had been chosen through Rock Health’s rolling application process.

Chrono’s product involves both patient information and drug therapy, and both could trigger government oversight.

While existing mobile apps try to help smokers maintain their motivation to give up cigarettes, Chrono is hoping to gain the FDA’s approval for a system that combines that kind of psychological support with nicotine delivery timed for the periods throughout the day when a smoker’s cravings are the strongest. The hope is that the combination of a motivational app and nicotine delivery will work better than either of those elements alone.

Malay Gandhi, managing director of Rock Health, said Chrono is developing an innovative approach to freeing people from an addictive, life-threatening habit that has become a global epidemic.

“Chrono’s SmartStop drug delivery system represents the type of next-generation product technology that Rock Health is seeking to identify and advance in order to significantly impact the future of healthcare,” Gandhi said in a joint statement with Chrono.

Chrono’s SmartStop consists of a small wearable pod containing a battery, a Bluetooth chip, and a cartridge loaded with a day’s supply of nicotine. The cartridge includes an adhesive membrane that attaches to the skin. Using an adjustable strap, users can attach the pod to the arm, leg, torso, or other location on the body. The Bluetooth-equipped pod communicates wirelessly with the Chrono mobile app, which encourages the user to stick with the smoking cessation plan. Users change the nicotine cartridges each night before they turn in.

Chrono has begun clinical trials of SmartStop, and hopes eventually to qualify the product for reimbursement by health insurance plans, the company says.

Rock Health is now part of a group of Chrono backers that includes Canaan Partners, 5AM Ventures, Fountain Healthcare Partners, Mayo Clinic and GE Ventures.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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