The kids are alright: How these entrepreneurs plan to beat diabetes

Culture

“We’re not inventing a completely new drug, we are re-purposing the delivery device"

It’s 9:45 p.m. on a run of the mill Tuesday and Shaan Hooey is tired.

It’s been a long day for the Canadian entrepreneur who spent most of it talking to investors and answering media calls but you wouldn’t know it by how excited he is when discussing his medical startup, GlucaMed. The company has created its first prototype for an injectable pen that contains glucagon, a medication used to treat low-blood sugar in Type 1 diabetics.

From his home, Hooey describes over the phone how he and his partner, Sameer Jessa, managed to get the business off the ground in great detail. But, perhaps, the most compelling part of his story is that the co-founders behind this game-changing piece of technology are only 15 years old.

“Innovation is my motivation,” he says, with a laugh. “I was inspired to create the [Glucopen] because my sister has diabetes and I saw the pains she had to go through. I saw when she would have to sit on the sidelines [because of] low blood sugar and I thought there had to be a better way.”

Jessa agrees.“I’ve actually met with Shaan’s sister and I’ve seen how she’s struggled with her diabetes,” he says. “No diabetics should have to live with their life in danger.”

Although current products on the market today work just fine, Hooey explains, they’re counterintuitive. The first time he practiced using one of the injection needles — his sister often carries with her for safety — it took him 10 minutes before he could get it to work. “That’s too long in an emergency situation,” he says.

But why did it take so long? Before contemporary glucagon injections are ready to be used, individuals need to mix together two compounds (a powder and a liquid) stored separately by hand. Most diabetes kits intentionally store the compounds separately because when mixed it has a limited shelf life and costs more than approximately $200 per kit making it too expensive to waste. However, this setup can also prove tricky for first-time users (or even experienced diabetics) under pressure.

GlucaMed changes that by making the mixing of the two compounds as easy as pushing a button — think of it like an Epipen for diabetes. In order to inject the device all a user has to do is pull off the safety cap and push a button to deliver the substance. No hard work required. It’s a great idea that has even garnered interest from some of the industry’s biggest names, like California-based entrepreneur Navid Nathoo, founder of Airpost, and Accenture consultant Alexis Tremblay.

Their idea behind the device is so popular, in fact, that the teen entrepreneurs now have an investor and impressive board of directors by their side. Their impressive list of cheerleaders also includes the duo’s supporters from Sandbox, the outreach arm for the DMZ an outreach organization based at Ryerson University and The Knowledge Society, a student-focused tech incubator based in Toronto.  

For now, Jessa and Hooey are focused on clinical trials and bringing their product to market. Since they’re underage, working out trials is an unusual hardship as most labs won’t even let minors enter their facility. But, they’re not letting that interfere with their plans.  

“We’re going to keep working at this,” explains Hooey. “We think this could change the world.”


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