The Ask the CAMTech Innovator series features passionate members of CAMTech’s global health innovator community who are working to develop affordable medical technologies for those facing major healthcare challenges in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today, we’re talking to Jeffrey Lipton from team GEMs Boxes. The team recently won the $10k Opioid Epidemic Post-Hack-a-thon Award for the progress they have made on their innovation since the September hack-a-thon. In addition to Jeff, the team includes Ted Liao, Annie Feldman, Andrew Schwartz, Scott Goldberg and Scott Weiner.
GEMS Boxes are remotely-unlocked boxes placed throughout metropolitan areas that contain life-saving supplies like naloxone for people who suffer opioid overdoses. Emergency response dispatchers can unlock the supplies and guide callers through their use, turning bystanders into first responders. Jeff tells us the story of how the team formed and explains how their project addresses an unmet need for those struggling with opioid use disorder. He also highlights the team’s experience working on their innovation throughout the post-hack award phase and how they plan to use the $10k prize to help GEMs Boxes achieve real community impact.
Walk us through your initial experience at the Opioid Epidemic Challenge Summit and Hack-a-thon last year – why had you decided to participate and what were you hoping to accomplish?
Before the hack-a-thon, three of us were working on the idea in a fairly haphazard way. When we heard about the event, we decided to we needed to attend, not only to gain a better understanding of the epidemic, but also to find like-minded people who could help us develop the idea.
How did your team come together? Did you all find each other immediately after the pitching session, or did it take time for the group to form?
Since we came to the event already knowing what we wanted to work on, we were able to clearly articulate the vision and need. Once there, we were able to find others who were willing to help, both during the event and from others who have stayed involved since the hack-a-thon.
What sparked the idea for GEMs? What made you decide to focus on a remote safety box?
It started in two parallel groups. There was a group of MDs (Weiner, Goldberg and Liao) at MGH who had been working on the idea for some time. Separately, Andrew Schwartz and myself came up with the idea in the context of emergency preparedness. We realized there was a need for Narcan to be pre-stationed with regulated access, so together we all joined forces.
What makes GEMs unique? How did you know that the product tackled a specific need for those struggling from opioid use-disorder that wasn’t already being addressed through a similar product?
What makes GEMs unique is the system’s ability to guarantee supplies to those in the community who are unprepared. We did extensive research to see if anything similar was on the market, and while we found similar concepts, there was nothing that specifically targeted the opioid epidemic or that could help those in need.
GEMs was not one of the original winners from the hack-a-thon, but your passion to the cause definitely propelled you to continue working on this project. How did you avoid getting discouraged and what motivated you to apply for the post-hack award?
Well, we knew we had a good idea from the initial vetting process we went through at the hack-a-thon. The feedback we received from the judges was also encouraging – they had told us we had a fantastic idea but that they wanted to ensure that the $1k prize that was earmarked for Narcan was used in the most effective way. Given what We-are-Allies has done with that money, I can’t blame them.
Can you talk a little bit about what went on during the 100 days between the hack-a-thon and the post-hack presentations? What were the steps involved in testing the product? How did you reach first responders and other safety departments that were willing to test and validate your idea?
A lot went on during the 100 days. Based on information from the judges, we collaborated with the MGH team and expanded our skill set. We also did market research surveys and technical development. We reached out to the Boston and Cambridge Police Departments and other local emergency response groups for feedback and information about system operations. Once we pitched the idea, they loved it, and wanted to help develop the system.
Developing a new medtech product is not easy – how have you gotten through periods of doubt and uncertainty that you would succeed?
We knew it was important to clearly define the problem, the possible sources of error, and look for as much feedback as possible. The key was to avoid becoming too emotionally tied to the project and to remain rational and level-headed, always keeping in mind that we may need to shift direction or adapt to new information based on what we learned.
How has participating in the post-hack process accelerated the development of GEMs? How will you utilize the $10k award and six months of support from the CAMTech Accelerator Program?
Participating in the post-hack process has given use a deep sense of humility and awe. There are so many people are working on meaningful projects, and we hope our project proves to be worthy of the award. Thanks to the support from CAMTech and GE, we have accelerated the pace of our prototype development and hope to have more data soon.
Can you offer some words of encouragement and inspiration to others developing medtech innovations? What would you say to others working to improve mental and overall public health?
Look for ways to maximize your impact while making minimal system changes. It takes a lot of effort to make small changes in the medical field, but they have the potential to yield fantastic results. You’ll need support from many different groups and coalitions of people (doctors, patients, lawmakers, first responders, etc.) but with patience and perseverance, the hard work pays off.