Sleep Apnea—A Plague for America with More Help on the Way

By Brad Sorensen, CFA


I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion on sleep apnea hosted by Force Family Office that featured the pioneer in the study of sleep science and inventor of the ubiquitous CPAP machine, Dr. Colin Sullivan. The founder and CEO of Sommetrics, Dr. Richard Rose, also joined and spoke about the science behind sleep apnea as well as introducing a new treatment for sleep apnea.

Dr. Sullivan recounted the story of how he came to invent the sleep apnea machine, which actually started out as research into sudden infant death syndrome. Before Dr. Sullivan brought the CPAP machine to market, sleep apnea was often treated with extreme measures such as a tracheotomy. More importantly, Dr. Sullivan spoke on the dangers of even mild sleep apnea. With at least 20% of the US population suffering from sleep apnea, many undiagnosed, Dr. Sullivan outlined the dangers to society of having so many sufferers. Sleep apnea, which can vary in severity and breathing issues during sleep, can have a wide variety of consequences. Immediately, the lack of sleep that results in auto accidents, work injuries, and lack of productivity. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that diagnosing and treating every patient in the US who has sleep apnea would produce an economics savings of over $100 billion.

And it’s not just those more obvious consequences that sleep apnea sufferers have to think about the impact of poor quality of sleep. Dr. Sullivan noted that many health problems appear to stem from or be exacerbated by sleep apnea, including obesity, diabetes and heart arrhythmia. Part of the problem in the lack of diagnosis of the condition, often due to not being aware of the problem or not being willing to contemplate the CPAP solution. Additionally, many patients, especially those with more mild cases of sleep apnea, stop using the CPAP machine due to inconvenience of wearing a mask to bed.

Certainly, there is no doubt that the CPAP device has literally been a life saver and has been improved on and become more comfortable for the wearer. And while it’s likely that CPAP will continue to be needed for sleep apnea sufferers, especially for more severe cases, it would be nice for patients to have options and that’s where Sommetrics and Dr. Rose comes in.

Sommetrics is a privately held company that is working on bringing a new sleep apnea solution to market, known as aerSleep. Dr. Rose explained that the device fits comfortably around the throat and uses a gentle suction to open the throat passage and allow air to flow more freely. It’s exciting to have a new possible solution for sleep apnea sufferers that may be more attractive to the mild sufferers and the device is currently being ushered through the approval process with hopes that the aerSleep comes to market by the beginning of 2024.

Although not participating directly in the conference, there are also encouraging developments from a couple of other companies and potentially providing a pill that might provide some relief. RespireRX RSPI is a biopharmaceutical company that is attempting to develop treatments to combat disorders caused by the disruption of neuronal signaling, which can include forms of sleep apnea. The company is attempting to develop a pharmaceutical cannabinoid by the name of Dronabinal that is meant to treat obstructive sleep apnea—and is currently moving through the FDA approval process.

Similarly, Incannex Healthcare IXHL is a company using cannabinoid to attempt to provide another solution to the sleep apnea problem and is currently undergoing a proof-of-concept clinical trial in Australia.

While making no investment recommendations, it’s exciting to see that there are potential developments in the pipeline that could help millions of sleep apnea sufferers around the world and at Zacks, we’ll be following these and other developments in this enormous market carefully.

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