If you’ve got food or sting allergies, you need to carry epinephrine with you everywhere, since that’s your emergency lifeline. But a few studies have shown that many teenagers and college students do not carry at least one auto-injector. At Allergic Living, we’ve heard many reasons for this: from the “my pockets weren’t big enough” to “I didn’t want to carry a backpack (or purse)” and the old “I left it in my locker.”
The need to carry emergency medicine in a convenient way led Samuel Graska to thinking, what’s the one thing a young person is never without? Graska, a 21-year-old who’s long had to carry inhalers for his asthma, was working on a midterm project when he had a eureka moment about self-carrying medication. The cell and molecular biology graduate from Ohio’s Kent State University turned to his father and said, “How do you feel about an epinephrine auto-injector smartphone case?”
His dad paused, and replied within three minutes, telling his son he should pursue it.
Graska then pitched his idea to two fellow students – Ariella Yager, an entrepreneur major, and Justin Gleason, who is in a masters program for architecture and environmental design Yager and Gleason were on-board. They launched Case.MD, a medical device company to develop emergency medicine tools.
Graska is now the CEO, Yager handles the day-to-day operations and Gleason undertakes product design and 3D printing. The three young entrepreneurs have a 3D working model of their big prototype – the Epi-Case, a smartphone case that holds two vials of epinephrine and can administer medicine with the push of a button.
“Although the Epi-Case is just one product, our vision is to expand into other emergency medicine. We think this could really revolutionize the way people carry and take their daily or emergency medication,” Graska says.
The college students have been working overtime to push this invention forward. They have filed a utility patent through the United States Patent and Trademark Office and are waiting to hear back. Still, the Epi-Case has a long way to go before hitting the market – with FDA approval being one the bigger hurdles.
But make no mistake, Graska and his team are determined to get there. “We have been working on it for about a year and a half. Between being school body president, attending classes, and overseeing this company, it’s been a lot. We usually spend anyfwhere from 20 to 40 hours on the company during the week. This is 100 percent what I’d like to do after I graduate. I want to see it come to life,” he says.
Graska says he’s talked to a lot of students who go out to bars without their auto-injectors. “There are countless ways of improving the auto-injector and emergency medicine by connecting it to your smartphone.”
The Epi-Case is 22 millimeters thick, making it slightly bigger than your average smartphone case. Both ends are covered by caps which can be removed when an allergic individual is having a severe reaction. The case is then held on the person’s outer thigh and once a button is pushed, the needle inside delivers the medicine.
The idea has received funding from pitch competitions at Kent State. Case.MD will also launch a crowdfunding campaign for a product called Alula, a smartphone case that holds and dispenses women’s birth control pills. Graska figures they can get Alula on the market, and make revenue from it, while working to perfect the Epi-Case.
The concept may appear brilliant, but it comes with many practical questions. Heat degradation is a concern in a smartphone context, since epinephrine is meant to be kept at room temperature. “When it comes to manufacturing, we are going to integrate technology that is extremely viable in terms of isolation. High grade polymers that are already FDA approved,” Graska says.
“It’s going to be something that is a true medical device,” he says of the case. The team is also conducting “drop tests,” to ensure the durability of the case. Down the road Case.MD also will look into developing an asthma inhaler integrated into a smartphone case. Graska hopes to create a new standard in emergency medicine related to asthma and allergies. He says if he’d had these devices as a kid, it would have made a World of a difference.
“People will know it’s your medicine, but it will be part of a device [smartphone] that you carry with you so it’s nothing out of the ordinary anymore,” he says.