Taking Their Best Shot: Kaléo Makes Big Strides in Auto-Injectors
No one wants to be fumbling for the instruction book when you need a shot of life-saving medicine. That is exactly why a new auto-injector technology talks users through how to administer emergency doses of drugs—minimizing the potential for errors in situations where even a brief delay could prove fatal.
The talking injector was the brainchild of two college students who turned their own personal challenges into a major medical products corporation, with the springboards of the right college class and a modest investment from people who understand invention and entrepreneurs.
Twin brothers Evan and Eric Edwards have food and other allergies so severe that they must always carry a dose of epinephrine for emergency treatment of life-threatening allergic reactions. But a pre-college trip abroad when they nearly forgot their drugs sparked a conversation about how to make it easier and more convenient to carry and use epinephrine.
The idea that resulted was an epinephrine injector that is about the size of a credit card and no thicker than a smartphone. The device includes a sound chip that gives audible instructions to the patient or caregiver about how to safely and effectively use it.
The process of transforming the concept into what became the product Auvi-Q was a long and arduous one. It started when Evan was a sophomore at the University of Virginia and took a course called Invention Design. Professors Larry Richards and Mike Gorman suggested he apply for a grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, now known as VentureWell, to develop the idea. Evan and an enterprising team of classmates received $14,000—one of the earliest of VentureWell’s E-Team grants that support college innovators.
“We were only in our second year of college,” Evan recalls, “when the grant helped us launch Intelliject [the original name of their company].”
“It was thrilling. We used those initial funds to start the business plan and work on the prototyping,” Evan says, and then the team applied for their first patents. “From there, we were able to raise significant angel capital. My parents invested, family invested.”
With a good prototype they successfully raised several million more. Those early investments were critical, because clinical testing is very expensive and takes a great deal of time. While they received the VentureWell E-team grant in 2000, Auvi-Q finally won FDA approval in 2012. In 2013 – 15 years after Evan and Eric Edwards initially developed the idea for what would become their invention – Auvi-Q was licensed to French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi for $230 million.
Evan says good ideas can fall by the wayside when the process is so daunting, but they had motivation to keep at it. “It takes a specific personality and a passion,” Evan says of their determination to bring Auvi-Q to market. “When you’re in a unique position not only as an entrepreneur but also a patient of the product you’re creating it facilitates perseverance.”
The grant from VentureWell, which is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, seems small 14 years and millions of dollars later. But it was an early boost w
ithout which Evan says Intelliject and Auvi-Q may not have happened. He follows the example of The Lemelson Foundation and is committed to helping today’s student inventors. He is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Virginia i.Lab, which supports entrepreneurship and innovation education, and serves on the Engineering Entrepreneurship Advisory Board for the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“We as a business community need to continue to develop those relationships and provide wisdom and emotional intelligence, as well as intellectual capital, to support our entrepreneurs,” he says.
Intelliject was re-named Kaléo in July 2014. The name is a Greek word meaning “to be called.”
“The name embodies our culture and our team here at the company,” Evan says. “All of us are here with a purpose and passion to create potentially life-saving solutions for patients.”
That purpose and passion are serving them well. In July 2014, Kaléo launched another new product—an auto-injector that delivers a dose of naloxone as an emergency treatment for accidental overdoses of prescription drugs.
While Kaléo enjoys growth and success Evan says that, for him, the bottom line is saving lives. He remembers that, less than a month after Auvi-Q hit the market, they received a letter from a mother whose daughter had saved her life with it.
“For us, that’s the ultimate validation,” he says, “getting the product on the market and knowing that we’ve already made an impact.”