While top medical companies in the U.S. race to develop a vaccine to quell the ravaging COVID-19 crisis, five UNC seniors are developing a product to address another public health emergency that currently looms below the radar: opioid addiction.
Nearly 2 million Americans experience opioid addiction every year, with more than 80% of addictions starting with prescription drugs. In addition, 41 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are at a high risk of opioid-related death.
MUSE Biomedical, winner of Early Stage Social Venture and Most Buzzworthy categories in the 2020 Carolina Challenge Pitch Party, plans to stop addictions before they develop by creating a sensor that patients will wear on their chest that collects physiological signals on their body’s response to opioid medication. An app will process information from the sensor for physicians and the patient’s family members to monitor.
“Knowing that this is a problem, we want to see what we could do to help patients before the only thing healthcare providers can do is provide CPR or provide emergency medications when someone is already in a cardiac arrest or experiencing an overdose,” Goutam Gadiraju, one of the co-founders, said.
Gadiraju—along with fellow UNC Biomedical Engineering juniors Jennifer Jacober, Karthik Kaundinya, Tasneem Essader and Pradham Tanikella—formed MUSE Biomedical in October 2019.
For the remainder of their junior year, the MUSE team began developing a prototype at UNC’s Makerspace and at Launch Chapel Hill. Covid-related restrictions beginning in the spring made prototyping difficult, Kaundinya said, so the team began focusing on business development.
During this stretch, with the help of Launch Chapel Hill and various mentors including university faculty, MUSE received a provisional patent for their prototype and formed an LLC for their business.
Now with an unusually lengthy winter break ahead, the five-person team plans to waste no time. While Gadiraju, Kaundinya, and Jacober polish up the prototype of the sensor, the more software-inclined Essader and Tanikella will work on developing functionalities on the app.
By collecting information on how patients are responding to their medication and if they are taking the correct dosage, Jacober said the data collected by the app could provide physicians with further information on how medication can more safely be prescribed in the future.
“By tracking that, over time doctors will be able to manage dosage and make sure the patient is taking their medication at the correct time,” Jacober said. “Because we found that is when addictions develop—when patients take their medication at incorrect intervals.”
Jacober said their goal is to complete the prototype and app by the end of January, so they can hit the ground running mid-March with early validation testing. Once the device is fully developed, they will go through the reimbursement process to try and get their device eligible for insurance coverage to alleviate any cost burden on the patient.
MUSE received $1,500 from the Carolina Pitch Party, and this fall, they also received $3,000 from winning as “Top Senior Team” in the i4 Innovation Challenge hosted by UNC and N.C. State’s BME departments.
Although they have enough funding for the time being to carry them through the early validation testing phase, Gadiraju said they are always eager to receive any additional funds through grants or competitions.