Chinese pact gives Boone startup Pneuma Respiratory breathing room

 In September 2018

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Pulmonologist Steven Kesten, above, joined Boone-based Pneuma Respiratory in March as president and chief medical officer.

For many people suffering from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, managing medication intake using traditional inhalers can be a challenge. Children and teens don’t always communicate effectively with their parents regarding usage, and older adults and busy professionals might not remember when they took their last puff.

Pneuma Respiratory, a Boone-based business that was started in 2015 by Cree co-founder Eric Hunter, might have a solution. The biotechnology company has raised more than $18 million for the development of a digital inhaler that uses breath-activated technology to deliver precise droplets of medication and record flow rates so users know how much medicine they’re taking in. It expects to start clinical trials in 2019.

“[The Pneumahaler] will only deliver the drug when you start to breathe in,” enabling a high percentage of the dose to be delivered to the airways, President and Chief Medical Officer Steven Kesten says. Kesten, who joined the company in March, is a pulmonologist who was a faculty member at University of Toronto and previously was vice president of respiratory products at German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim.

The Bluetooth-enabled device doesn’t require shaking or pushing a button while simultaneously taking a puff. Voice coaching can tell users how long to hold their breath after inhaling, and an LED dose counter keeps track of how much medicine is left. Dates and times can be downloaded to the device, providing more feedback for users.

While there have been incremental advances in inhaler technology, “There are no other devices trying to do what we’ve got in one solution,” Kesten says.

The company said in July it had raised $8.3 million in a Series A financing — a securities filing in May indicates more than 50 investors. Last month, Pneuma announced a $10 million investment from Haisco Pharmaceutical Group, which will retain distribution rights for the Pneumahaler in China. That deal gives the company access to the Chinese market with Haisco helping with the country’s registration and approval process, Kesten says.

The money will be used for completing clinical and regulatory plans, Kesten says, including hiring more people in Boone and at a California office. Currently, the business has seven employees, and “is run very efficiently” by partnering with companies such as Taiwanese contract manufacturer FoxConn Technology Group. Early cost estimates for the Pneumahaler are coming in below existing retail prices, Kesten says.

Hunter, who is chief executive officer, is based in Boone, along with a project manager, controller and administrative support staffer. Kesten and Chief Financial Officer Rich Gimigliano work in separate California offices. The company’s chairman is Walter Robb, who led GE’s health care division for 13 years.

The recent Haisco commitment has given the company validation, Kesten says. “They see our solution as a product they want to bring to the Chinese market.”


MORGANTON — Sylva-based Jackson Paper Manufacturing will invest $14 million and create 42 jobs at a new plant that will produce corrugated sheets for box makers. The plant is expected to open in 2019.

LENOIR — Electric cooperative Blue Ridge Energy began construction on an $18 million corporate office. The new facility, which is expected to be complete by early 2020, will also house subsidiaries Propane Fuels and RidgeLink.

FRANKLIN — Delise Talley joined the executive-management team of Entegra Financial. Talley will become chief retail banking officer when Carolyn Huscusson retires in February.

MILLS RIVER — Brevard-based Gaia Herbs is opening a new facility here. The supplement manufacturer will invest more than $12 million over three years and add 30 jobs.

BOONE — The 203,000-square-foot, four-story Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences at Appalachian State University opened after more than two years of construction. The $79 million building will house 14 degree programs within the Beaver College of Health Sciences.

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