Picture a set on the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. A scene of piles of chests filled with gold, jewels and other treasures.
To Luke Marshall, that same scene is on every major college campus. Except, the gold is patents and the treasures are technologies. He found the technology for his company, VitalFlo, in one of NC State’s treasure troves.
Raleigh-based VitalFlo is a digital health company that helps asthma patients stay out of the emergency room by preventing attacks before they happen.
In the United States, one in 13 people have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those 25 million Americans, VitalFlo is here to help.
The company sells a device that enables asthma patients keep track of their medical condition from home. They give patients a medical device called a spirometer that measures lung function after patients breathe into it. Usually, these are used in clinics to diagnose asthma. However, patients typically only see a doctor for the test once or twice a year.
VitalFlo also provides a small indoor detection device that measures the quality of the air inside. It monitors particulate matter levels, carbon dioxide levels and other potential asthma triggers. Lastly, VitalFlo also works with the Environmental Protection Agency to measure the outdoor air quality of the patient’s Zip Code.
Then, these data points are compiled together onto one dashboard where a doctor can keep track of the patient’s condition. Doctors can then update care plans, as well as predict harmful conditions.
The company began as a research project at NC State, in collaboration with UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. When Marshall came onto the scene, there was already intellectual property around the hardware. He saw the technology and knew that it needed to be marketed in order to start impacting lives.
To Marshall, the most interesting part of the company’s work is the data and analytics. VitalFlo is working with UNC to let patients take home the equipment for six months. From this, a foundational data set will be created that can help develop predictive forecasts of a patient’s risk of an asthma attack.
“Google knows how to predict the end of the search you’re typing before you finish it,” Marshall said. “Amazon has already shipped you the things it thinks you’re going to put in your cart before you put it in your cart. Why is this not being applied to the most important part of our lives, which is health?”
Teens A Special Target
This technology is especially impactful for teenagers, who often think they’re invincible and don’t pay close attention to their asthma. Asthma care instructions generally are long lists directing that if a certain situation happens to remedy it by performing a certain action, but they can often be overwhelming. VitalFlo’s device can remind patients to take certain precautions based on seasonal changes.
Marshall said a major goal of VitalFlo was making sure they validated all of their work clinically. This way, they’ve been able to expand to other partnerships and are now expanding commercially as well.
VitalFlo raised a pre-seed round in several pieces over the last two years, mainly to fund their clinical validation. Most of their funding has been through grants, but the company also recently participated in the Techstars Impact Accelerator program.
The company also just won the second phase of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant through the National Science Foundation. The grant is a continuation of phase one, which VitalFlo completed in 2018. Overall, the company has brought in about $1.1 million in grants and award funding and a little less than $500K in private investments, Marshall said.
VitalFlo currently has several partnerships on the 1-yard-line of being finalized, Marshall said. In the next month or two, more updates will come about national and international quality research and clinical delivery projects for the company. So the hope is for yet more “treasures” for VitalFlo and its users.