Healthcare is always ripe for innovation. Whether it’s improving operating room safety, developing systems to reduce patient wait times, or improving drug delivery, the opportunities to improve healthcare effectiveness and efficiency are endless. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the need for these solutions even more pressing.
George Whitfield, an entrepreneur residing at the Martin Trust Center at MIT Entrepreneurship, said: “One company, Biobot Analytics, has developed a technology that looks at sewer effluent to monitor the spread of disease. In a case of incredible serendipity, when Covid began to spread, they developed this right Did.”
Another startup inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic, Teal Bio, has developed a comfortable, reusable, and transparent ventilator that healthcare workers can wear for long shifts. The company has identified many benefits of the design, including reduced costs, reduced waste, and improved ability to discern emotions. Teal Bio was co-founded by Jason Trautner MBA ’19, SM ’19, Leader of Global Operations, Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE), and Giovanni Traverso, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.
Traverso is no stranger to startups. He co-founded seven of them. An MD-PhD, Traverso is an assistant professor at MIT and a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The size of his company varies from 1 employee to 140 he has. Except for Teal Bio, the thread that connects his company is gastroenterology.
“These companies are setting up systems that make it easier for patients to receive their medication in some way, especially through the gastrointestinal tract,” says Traverso.
Lyndra Therapeutics, one of the companies Traverso co-founded, hopes to revolutionize the way patients take their medicines. They have developed an oral drug delivery platform called LYNX. This is his one capsule that releases drug over a specific period of time, consistently delivering drug for 1, 2, or 4 weeks. The capsule dissolves in the stomach to reveal a star-shaped drug delivery system.
The ‘star’ arms are made of drug-bearing polymers and are connected to the central core via degradable linkers. Once the dosing period is complete, the linker collapses, the arms separate, and the entire system safely travels from the stomach to the small intestine, where it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. is being studied in
“Many patients need a loved one or caretaker to take their oral medications daily. and can have a significant impact on quality of life,” says Traverso.
Lyndra has raised $240 million to date. One of her treatments developed to deliver drugs used to treat schizophrenia has advanced to Phase 2 clinical trials.
Clinical trials are just one example of the unique hurdles that medtech startups like Lyndra face on the road to commercialization. Agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health must meet strict regulations before marketing a medical device, drug, or healthcare platform to end users.
“It is very important to understand the regulatory, manufacturing and business challenges that need to be met in order to launch a successful product. It speaks for resources,” adds Traverso. Traverso introduced a new class 2.S988 (Translational Engineering) in his first year of undergraduate studies at MIT, aimed at introducing students to these key elements.
Ellen Roche, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, is currently trying to determine the regulatory needs of her startup. In May, her pitch won the grand prize at the inaugural MIT Future Founders Initiative Prize Competition.
Roche has developed a minimally invasive technique to occlude the left atrial appendage in patients with atrial fibrillation. The technology, which she developed in collaboration with Harvard University professor Jennifer Lewis, reduces the chances of blood clots being dislodged, preventing strokes.
“The Future Founders program has been invaluable in refining our vision and identifying the right regulatory and commercial pathways to move forward,” says Roche. “Creating the pitch deck required us to think hard about aspects such as the market we are stepping into, the clinical target population, funding and IP. [intellectual property] Strategize while accessing a network of experts. “
In September, Roche and her team also won the Lab Central Ignite Golden Ticket, supporting startup founders from a group traditionally underrepresented in the biotech industry.
Both Traverso and Roche were instructors in Mechanical Engineering class 2.75 (Medical Device Design) with Prof. Alexander Slocum and Nevan Hanumara. The class culminates in a project in which students work with clinicians from Boston-area hospitals and industry representatives to design a medical device that addresses a specific problem. Throughout the class, regulatory experts introduce students to the unique challenges of starting a company or launching a product in the healthcare sector.
Adam Sachs ’13, one of the former students of 2.75, co-founded the start-up Vicarious Surgical. The company has developed a robotic system that enables minimally invasive surgery. A camera and two of his robotic instruments enter his abdomen through an incision smaller than a dime. A surgeon can operate on a patient with a 360-degree view of her.
“Course 2.75 gave me a deep understanding of the entire medical device design process, which was invaluable when I founded Vicarious Surgical. We were able to walk you through the process of developing a device from start to finish, showing you how to provide a .
Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, Vicarious Surgical currently has over 200 full-time employees and is currently in development. Positive feedback has been received from surgeons regarding the Beta 2 prototype. After receiving proper FDA approval, Sachs and his team plan to bring the product to market for use in hernias and other common surgical procedures.
Traverso believes that mechanical engineers like himself, Roche, and Sachs are particularly well-suited to launch medical tech startups.
“A large part of our program is hands-on experience, which we introduce and nurture through our many course offerings. I think,” he says.