It is a problem of refrigeration. Almost half of the pharmaceuticals sold in the United States are biologics that must be kept at a specific temperature.
Millions of people worry about properly maintaining their prescription drugs, says Theodora Christopher, who came up with a potentially affordable and reliable solution during an honors seminar at Northeastern. She and Anastasia Mavridis are leading a new venture, SaluTemp, to develop a temperature-sensing device that will provide patients with alerts as well as drug facts, enabling them to safely store and use their medications.
Christopher became aware of the issue of drug storage during a 2018 Dialogue of Civilizations visit to Britain when a classmate fell ill after her medication had been exposed during a power outage.
“She had a flare-up [of her illness] and it was awful,” says Christopher, who is studying biology.
Christopher recalled that incident two years later at a Northeastern seminar, Entrepreneurship in Health Sciences. She and classmate Benjamin Dottinger created a Shark Tank-style presentation for a theoretical healthcare product that would help people take care of their medications.
“Initially, we didn’t think anything of it,” says Christopher. Then the judges urged them to pursue their idea. “So we started looking for avenues to make it real.”
Christopher co-founded SaluTemp with Dottinger. A Northeastern Honors Propel Grant provided the funding for a prototype with the help of software and mechanical engineers.
“Our team started getting so big that I felt I needed help on the business side,” says Christopher.
She contacted Mavridis, who at that time was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology, and is currently earning a master’s in biotechnology. They had been close friends since freshman orientation, and they shared a passion for healthcare.
In support of their startup, Christopher and Mavridis have received an inaugural $5,000 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. The organization is distributing a total of $100,000 in grants to help fuel 17 ventures.
The SaluTemp leaders were surprised that an affordable solution to medication storage hasn’t been addressed in the marketplace. With the assistance of an interdisciplinary group of fellow students and an array of Northeastern academic advisers that includes Christa Dhimo, Holly Jimison, Misha Pavel, and Laurie Bishop, they’re hoping to limit the price of their product to $60 in order to make it affordable to low-income users.
“We’re not in it for the money, which is not the traditional entrepreneurial mindset,” Christopher says. “Our priority is: How do we help the most people?”
They are planning to launch the second phase of testing in August. Mavridis says the $5,000 award will help fund iterations of the prototype as well as patent applications. (The project has also received $3,000 via Northeastern’s Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Summit.)
In addition to the money, they are grateful for the support of Women Who Empower.
“We’ve heard, ‘You’re just two pre-med girls, how is your idea going to make it?’ And straight-up we’ve heard, ‘The idea isn’t going to make it,’” says Christopher. “We just had to push past all of that.”
Says Mavridis: “Women Who Empower have been way more open to having a full discussion with us. They’ve put their faith in us, and that has helped our confidence. When we go for grants, when we go for presentations, we’re more confident in ourselves and the idea.”