Alexander Dahmani founded his ‘smartinjector’ device company QuiO at just 24 and now hopes for his device to make a difference in how doctors monitor compliance in patients. This is the third in a series featuring up and coming medical device startups and their founders. These CEOs, all aged 36 or younger, are changing the way we access healthcare and medical technology in our expanding digital world
Alexander Dahmani was 24 when he left his PhD program at Columbia University in New York City to start QuiO, a medical device company that is developing at-home injectable smart devices that transfer data automatically to a Cloud platform, allowing medical teams to monitor patients away from the hospital.
‘I’m fascinated by the intersection of what used to be disparate fields,’ Dahmani explains. ‘What QuiO is doing brings together drug therapy and pharmaceutical molecules, as well as hardware, software, and electronics.’
QuiO’s ‘Smartinjector’ devices let patients safely inject their medications while at home or on the go. The information is then wirelessly communicated to a care team for monitoring, allowing them to oversee the wellbeing of the patient, as well as staying on top of a patient’s compliance. This combination of medical devices with wireless connectivity, sensors, and cloud software takes a novel approach to enable real-time medical data transfer.
‘Inherently, you just couldn’t do it five years ago because of cost and energy consumption,’ Dahmani points out, ‘But now, digital health is changing the dynamics. There are so many problems out there to solve and technology is accelerating so fast that it’s economically viable to find the answers in a number of different areas.’
Dahmani himself sought an answer for a problem he saw with his background in immunotherapy. After studying genetics as an undergrad, he worked for the biotech company Heat Biologics, which develops cell-based immunotherapy. ‘My time there convinced me that immunotherapy is a really promising form of therapy.’ So much so that he began a PhD at Columbia in microbiology and immunology.
While working on his PhD, Dahmani also had a job at the technology transfer office, Columbia Technology Ventures. There, he worked on the patenting and commercialisation of inventions and technology developed on campus by professors and students. The experience prepared him for entrepreneurship, giving him an idea about the dos and don’ts for his own future company.
‘An important don’t that I realised, because I was embedded in the process of reviewing the technology and saw the economics for the investors, was that I kept my invention completely separate from Columbia Technology Ventures.’ Despite creating QuiO while attending Columbia, Dahmani made certain to work on it independent of being in university owned offices or labs. Therefore, Columbia holds no ownership over the device.
Dahmani also came to the conclusion that startups are more likely to be successful if the leadership has both the business and the scientific background to take the company forward. ‘Spin-offs are usually an academic professor with really cutting edge technology who then “lets their baby go” with an experienced CEO. A lot of things can go wrong there with disagreements over strategy and commercialisation,’ he explains, ‘I think some things are just more set up for success when the founder and the CEO are either the same person or they work together towards making the technology actually successful to market.’
The global market for injectable drug delivery is one of the fastest growing in pharmaceuticals, projected to reach $624.50 billion by 2021, a CAGR of 11.5 per cent. ‘This is a trend that I recognised and knew that if I could find an opportunity to leverage and use it, there was a lot of room for success.’
Dahmani’s familiarity with the clinical trial data and background in biologics gave him insight into one of the biggest problems with self-injectable drugs; a problem that extends to all patients taking their prescribed medication – be it injections, pills or drops. Adherence.
‘There’s a huge gap between the therapeutic efficacy and the real world efficacy,’ Dahmani explains, ‘When patients leave the clinic, they make decisions about their health, whether right or wrong.’ Placing the responsibility of treatment into the hands of the patients themselves creates the possibility of them forgetting their injection, choosing not to take the drug, or using a device incorrectly.
Dahmani hopes QuiO will provide a solution to this age-old challenge. The injectable device records the dose and sends the information back to the server, allowing doctors to monitor patients during at-home care and, he hopes, improving compliance.
But improving the effectiveness of at-home care treatment is not the only benefit QuiO could bring to the injectable pharmaceutical market; the device could also create economic value by reducing the cost of noncompliance. ‘There is a correlation between nonadherence and higher medical costs. There’s a decline in pharmaceutical revenue when patients stop taking drugs or switch to a new therapy. Then in clinical trials, larger trial sizes are necessary because of nonadherence affecting the data and causing a loss in statistic power.’ Dahmani is certain that QuiO has the possibility of improving profitability for both payers and healthcare systems.
And though clinical trials are not a requirement for digital health companies, Dahmani and his team have chosen to conduct a clinical study before releasing their first device: ‘Data is definitely a prerequisite. I think it’s the only way we can gain any significant traction, by having reliable data showing clinical benefits, economic benefits, and proving adherence and patient satisfaction.’
Dahmani notes that, for now, there remains some scepticism about the value of digital health, citing a recent statement by the CEO of the American Medical Association, Dr James Madara, who described the field as the ‘snake oil of the early 21st century’ because of the ever increasing number of direct-to-consumer digital health products, some of which use questionable scientific evidence to support their products. ‘We need to show the value proposition of QuiO, and that our product really works and is effective clinically,’ said Dahmani.
More than a year after setting up the company, QuiO was recently named Innovation Champion at the Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge in San Francisco. ‘We are creating technology that can finally help close that gap between the efficacy and the value of drugs at patient’s homes, and can improve the economics around patient management,’ he said.
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