Smoking-related illnesses cost the U.S. economy an estimated $100 billion each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chrono Therapeutics, which announced at $32 million series A funding round today, thinks that by helping smokers quit, it can slash that $100 billion figure at least in half.
Chrono is the brainchild of Guy DiPierro, a lawyer by training whose mother died of lung cancer. In search of something that would prevent others from suffering similar deaths, he spent two years at the University of Basel investigating different technologies. In 2012, after acquiring the technology from the university, he returned to the United States and received a $2.3 million grant from that National Cancer Institute--its largest first-time grant ever.
"Smoking is both a chemical dependence and a habit," says Alan Levy, a serial entrepreneur who is now the company's CEO. "We want to deal with both."
What DiPierro developed, and what Levy, DiPierro and their team are intent upon commercializing, is a device similar to a nicotine patch, but which responds to known spikes in smokers' cravings. Levy explains that for most smokers, cravings are highest first thing in the morning, when they wake up without any nicotine in their systems, and again at mealtimes, when their metabolisms speed up and nicotine is metabolized more quickly.
Chrono's device, which will be able to be worn as a bracelet, armband, or patch, is designed to deliver more nicotine when those cravings are highest. Unlike current patches, it is also designed to give the smoker zero nicotine at some times during the day, which Levy says will make it easier smokers to get over their cravings. Levy expects that this feature alone will enable smokers to achieve a quit rate of about 50 percent, compared to about 10 percent for traditional patches.
But Chrono's device will also be able to send messages to a user's smartphone, encouraging them or reminding them to use the device. It will also let smokers set up support networks of friends who will also be able to follow their use and help them stay on track. It will also allow Chrono to collect demographic data and learn more about nicotine addiction. If it turns out that nicotine addiction is experienced differently by whites living in the South compared to blacks living in the north, says Levy, Chrono could one day tailor its programs to help each group achieve higher quit rates.
The $32 million raise is expected to last the company about three years, says Levy, by which time Chrono hopes to have won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The financing comes from an interesting mix of funders, including venture firms Canaan Partners, 5AM Ventures, and Fountain Healthcare Partners. The first two firms have backed Levy in his earlier startups, and all three will take a seat on Chrono's board. Joining them are the Mayo Clinic, which has one of the largest smoking cessation clinics in the country, and GE Ventures.
Levy is clearly taking the long view. If the device works for smoking cessation, he's got a whole list of addictions and conditions he believes it could be applied to. But first, the company's got to conquer smoking.