Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Device That "Sniffs Out" Food Allergens

Dining out with food allergies can be nerve-racking. How do you know what is safe to eat? There are products on the market currently that can test your food before you ingest it BUT does that mean that your entire plate of food is safe? Having food allergies should mean being able to dine safely just like everyone else. Just because a person has food allergies does not mean they do not enjoy the idea of going to restaurants or eat on the go; it just has to be approached with more caution. What if I told you that there is a new option being created as we speak? A product that could test all of your food and include multiple allergens simultaneously?

food allergy sensor multiple allergens

No, this is not a wish list item, it is a reality and it's called AllerGuard. Some months ago, Shai Hershkovich (the founder) approached me about the product. Being the mother of a food allergic child who has multiple food allergies, we have been dragging our feet on trying some restaurant experiences. This could be life-changing for us and for millions of other people. I am always hopeful and this product has just added to that. I'm sure you are all curious as well so let me share some information to give you an idea what AllerGuard is all about.

Most recently, Shai was interviewed on a leading television channel in Israel.

Tell me about yourselfMy name is Shai Hershkovich, an entrepreneur from Israel and the founder of a start up company called AllerGuard. Our company was created in order to bring allergic people an efficient and reliable way to know if there is a risk for them on the table while dining out in restaurants, at work or school. AllerGuard is a new way to really know if even a crumble of the food that puts you in danger has found its way to your plate.

How are you connected to the food allergy community? We all know people personally with food allergies. My partner's daughter has an allergy and a very close friend cannot consume dairy products. My niece also has a very severe allergy to gluten, which makes her parents struggle every time they eat outside of the home. Beyond the life threat which is obviously a huge concern, the issue here it the quality of life and endless efforts from the parents to an allergic child to minimize the risk in an uncontrolled environment. They describe the situation as watching your child playing in the middle of the highway, but without the ability to protect them there. We are developing AllergGuard to try to lower the risk for children and also to reduce the stress and burden on the worrying parents. Of course, this product is also for anyone of any age but this was part of our beginning focus.

What is so unique about the product that you are developing? When we started AllerGuard, we were looking for a new concept for allergens detection that will not limit the user to the sample he or she is taking while examining the food. Our focus was on the user experience and giving the allergic person a full dish analysis without limiting the test effectiveness to how many samples the user has taken, and to the chance that the allergen location is where the user was taking the sample. AllerGuard sensing technology is capable of detecting food allergens in trace amounts anywhere on your plate in less than a minute, without taking samples or even touching the food.

allergy technology founder AllerGuard Israel
Will your product be able to detect multiple allergens simultaneously? Yes, the user will purchase a set of SenseCard consumables that are specific to the food he or she are allergic to. The cost will be less than one dollar for a whole day of use. If they are allergic to multiple allergens, they will insert every card into the sensor using the relevant cards. All will be scanned in parallel so the user will not have to wait too long to get the result. In the next product generation, there will be multiple allergen layers on the same card so that the user will be able to buy one card but will be able to get an alert on the presence of all of the allergens he or she is allergic too.

How does your product differ from other products, such as the Nima Sensor? We use a different technology and a different approach than Nima's. We look for the chemical signature in the air. We use nanotechnology and machine learning. In simple terms- our product smells the allergen. We can teach the sensor to identify different types of foods.
Can you tell me more about the company and the team? The company was established on 2017 by me and my partner, Mr.Guy Ayal, who brings tons of experience in technology and hardware development. Luckily Dr. Anastasia Kipnis joined our team. She is a brilliant chemist that always finds an innovative way to overcome technological challenges and to take the development another step forward. We started working in a local technology incubator called eHealth Ventures (EHV). EHV is the leading digital health incubator in Israel and a center of innovation for entrepreneurs who are looking for a home and a guiding hand through the journey of product development and moving from seed concept to a growing business with real value and market positioning. In March 2017, AllerGuard presented our product to the Digital Health Innovation Contest

food allergy digital health award technology

What is your business strategy and who are your partners? We believe that in order to be successful, we need to create value and to bring the right partners on board. The reason we chose eHealth Ventures (EHV) is because of their significant value to the growth of our company and the commercialization of the product that we are developing. eHealth Ventures is a consortium of leading health care providers including the Cleveland Clinic Innovations, Maccabi Healthcare Services (leading HMO in Israel), Amgen, Medison Pharma and others. (EHV) is being led by Mr. Stephen Shapiro (US office), Mr. Talor Sax and Mr. Ophir Shahaf (Israel Office). Choosing partners like these gentlemen are the key for targeting the right markets, advanced product development and defining the right commercialization and marketing strategies.

food allergy device tester diningWhat is the status of development and what is the next step for your venture? We are working very intensively to bring this product to market. Our focus is on product development, sensor design and technology validation. We have already developed an improved prototype with advanced detection capabilities and performance. We achieved the What's Next Israel Innovation Award last month. This award gave us an additional boost and the acknowledgement that what we do is innovative and an 'outside of the box' solution for a huge problem. We have recently started the series-A funding round and we get a lot of attention from local and global companies and VCs. We are currently looking for the right partner that, in addition to financial support, will get the key to the right doors of the US market.

Comment below to share your thoughts with AllerGuard and our food allergy community

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Drug$ -The Price We Pay Film Thoughts

While everyone else is most likely sharing their goals and aspirations for 2019, I wanted to share some thoughts about a film I recently watched called

Drugs the Price We Pay film logo
Photo courtesy of Drug$- The Price We Pay

This is a documentary that describes the rising costs on life-saving pharmaceutical drugs. It includes real life families who are feeling the horrific choice of needing to being able to afford treatments to keep a family member alive with these overpriced prescriptions. How did I hear about it? I was flipping through Facebook and noticed there was a mention of one of my friends Aleasa Word as being a part of the documentary. Yes, epinephrine was included as one of the medicines but others were covered as well. For the sake of sticking to what I typically speak about, I encourage you to watch the film to hear about all of the mentions but I will be sharing specifically on my reaction to the epinephrine portion of the film.

While these drugs are necessary, they have skyrocketed in price (as we all know) but somehow hearing actual numbers kind of makes me stop in my tracks. I am not saying I wasn't paying attention when the whole EpiPen saga exploded because I was, I was entrenched in it. What tugged at my heartstrings were the same facts presented in a different light.

The first wake up moment "1 out of 5  Americans cannot afford the medicine that they need. They go to the doctor, the doctor writes the prescription but they can't afford to fill it. But five major companies make 50 million dollars in profits." - Bernie Sanders.
These numbers are even less than those diagnosed with food allergies. This while we wonder why so many are walking around without epinephrine, without being prepared, knowing that they may die if they have an allergic reaction and do not have that medication with them when they need it. Look around you right now- who is next to you? Is it your child, your parent, children from school or even yourself. Chances are one of you could face a life-threatening situation or even worse, death due to the cost not having the medication that you need. A medication that (most) of the time, costs so very little to make. How can anyone put a price on a person's life?

epipen in thigh can't breath
Screenshot from Drug$ - The Price We Pay
The second wake up moment Around the 7 minute factor, a scene shows a woman gasping for breath, reaching for an EpiPen. (Knock on wood) we have never used epinephrine on NutriSon. We came very, very close once or twice but we never did. With severe vigilance, strict rules about food, socializing and anything else where food is part of the situation, we have been lucky so far. As a food allergy mother, I watched this woman who was a part of the film and tears began to fill my eyes. Although I don't know her, I felt as if I was watching my own child not being able to breath. I heard her lungs trying desperately to find the air they needed and it terrified me. I paused the film, red eyes and gross, snotty nose and I went upstairs to have my son watch it too. He's seventeen and probably rolled his eyes at me when I banged on his door, telling him to stop what he was doing to watch it. But when it was done, I looked at him and cried and all that I could say to him was "I never, ever want you to have to feel that." No one should.

The third wake up moment A reshare of video footage during the EpiPen price hike trial. Heather Bresch of Mylan, Inc. was asked what she made for the year and her response was "$18 million dollars". Now, it took me a moment to process this. Because the business side of me kept saying marketing costs, pr, development, etc. so maybe, maybe that makes sense? But then the other side of my brain flipped it and my jaw dropped open. This, this is what was echoing through my head for days afterwords:

Let's say the EpiPens were actually $600 (really? We aren't stupid but let's just play along)
$600 per EpiPen Twin Pack
19 Million dollars a year (just for 1 year)
19 Million dollars = 31,000+ EpiPens
I repeat
19 Million dollars = 31,000+ EpiPens 

Essentially, one person has the power to save over 31,000 lives a year (if not more!) but chooses not too. She seems to be ok with this. I am not.

She could literally live very comfortably on just one year's salary and choose to use the rest to save people. Am I judging? Yes. That's a hard yes. Do I know her, do I know what her personal situation is that may require her to have that salary? No. Do I know if she worked for years upon years and deserves that salary from all of her dedication? No. But in my eyes, none of that matters. At the end of the day, she won't be remembered for saving lives, she will be remembered for endangering them.

hives anaphylaxis food allergy reaction
Original photo from AllergyPhoods

This article is not meant as a bitchfest and it's certainly not meant to go after Heather Bresch personally- she just happened to be the one in the film who's numbers made my thoughts jump into action. You see, I am true to my word with everything and everyone, always. Because if I am not, people will not be able to respect me or trust my word. As silly as it sounds in this day and age, I also believe and expect others around me to be the same way. When I see scenarios like this, where a person could be helping versus harming, I cannot understand why that person would choose not to help. This is not meant as a violent or angry post but as a share, asking others to wake up and be a part of the solution. Let your voice me heard because if you don't, you will never know if you might have been the one to make a change. Stand up for what you believe, even when other people may not think that what you are doing is the right thing. Prove them wrong.

This film needs to be watched and shared. Patient empowerment can become a superpower for those who need to understand the facts. Most of the time, trying to listen to a description of how the pharmaceutical world works can make our thoughts clouded and our head go numb. The importance of knowing what is going on- the difference of those who go without what they need and those who decide to ask why they are being given a life-saving prescription without a choice to be able to use it.

drugs the movie at theaters
Photo courtesy of Drug$ - The Price We Pay
You can find out about  Drug$ - The Price We Pay and view on the web or on YouTube or Amazon Prime as well as follow along on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

I was not compensated in any way to share my thoughts about this film. As with any other review, my thoughts and opinions are always honest and my own.