By Scott Meacham
Diabetes is at an all-time high. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. (about one in ten) are living with this chronic, incurable disease.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is most common. More than 20 million people have this condition which can contribute to heart attack and stroke, vison loss and blindness, amputation, kidney failure, and even death. The rate of type 2 diabetes is accelerating at 5.5 percent per year.
Physicians can diagnose T2D with a routine physical and blood tests; however, diagnosis is just the first step. Disease management is very complex. Diet and exercise are proven ways to battle T2D and will likely be important to any treatment plan, but for many patients, medications are required.
Aevus Precision Diagnostics, an Oklahoma startup, wants to make determining the appropriate drug therapy easier for diabetics and doctors both. Puneet Chadha and Yash Sagar Santini, two of the company’s co-founders, had the idea for Aevus when they were completing master’s degrees at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD.
“We have family members back in India suffering from diabetes,” Chanda said. “After graduation, we got jobs in New York City, saved up our money, and took a risk to plunge into working on this full-time.”
The pair did extensive research on type 2 diabetes.
“Identification of diabetes is modernized and easy,” Santini explains. “How to ensure that once a patient is diagnosed you can regulate the blood sugar — that is the very complicated problem. How does a doctor know from the get-go, which drug chemistry will be the best? There are at least eleven different options to lower blood sugar levels. Different people respond differently to different drugs.”
In their investigations, Santini and Chanda learned that in Oklahoma, nearly one in six people have the disease. After a few months, they decided that they were ready to invest their savings in building a company around a product, not in making a New York City landlord rich.
More research led Santini and Chanda to reach out to i2E. They wanted to know more about Oklahoma’s commitment to supporting technology startups. Without knowing a soul here, they moved to Oklahoma, enrolled in i2E’s venture assessment program, met their third partner, Christin Bivens (now technical co-founder who is leading Aevus’ data science efforts), and founded Aevus in Oklahoma City, rather than Baltimore, New York, or Boston.
Matching a newly diagnosed T2D patient with the correct therapy often requires a medical specialist; even so, it can take 18 to 24 months to arrive at a stable treatment plan.
“There is a major disparity in scale in terms of endocrinologists and physicians to the number of type 2 diabetics,” Chadha said. “We are giving clinicians a second pair of clinical eyes.”
Aevus is in prototype development with a machine learning-powered prescription management tool intended to help physicians take into account the myriad of factors needed to make more informed decisions regarding drug therapy for an individual type 2 diabetes patient.
The team is striking partnerships with institutions such as OSU, Johns Hopkins, Samatvam (India), UK Biobank, and others, to “train” software algorithms with thousands of anonymous patient data sets.
Oklahoma is on the right track when our initiatives to foster and support innovation attract entrepreneurs like Chanda and Santini. It won’t surprise me if we see more people leaving the coasts to start new companies in our state. Let’s be prepared.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at [email protected]