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This student is creating an app to help independent pharmacists and patients in times of medication shortages

Junhyuk Choi working on his laptop.
Northeastern Demo Day third place winner Junhyuk “Jay” Choi demonstrates how his application Med Finder will work. Med Finder’s goal is to help patients access their centralized prescription information, choose a pharmacy and fill prescriptions based on after-insurance price, availability of medication and distance from the patient’s current location. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Junhyuk “Jay” Choi had a dream of opening his own pharmacy. That is why he enrolled into Northeastern University’s doctor of pharmacy program.

The experiential nature of Northeastern’s education allowed Choi to work at all kinds of pharmacies — large retailers such as Walgreens and CVS, at a hospital and at an independent pharmacy in Boston’s Chinatown — for his internships and co-ops.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a nationwide shortage of Adderall prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder last year, Choi took notice. He started seeing the same patients visit the pharmacy he worked at as often as twice a day — hopeful to catch a restock and fill their prescriptions. 

“The moment I saw those patients’ eyes desperate to get their medication on time, I thought I should do something about it,” he says. “So that’s how I made up my mind to start this journey.”

Choi, who is now in the third year of the PharmD program, is in the process of launching Med Finder, an application that would allow customers access their prescription information, check the availability of the drug at nearby independent pharmacies, and send a request to fill the prescription to the place that has it in stock. 

Med Finder recently won Choi third place and a cash prize of $1,500 in Northeastern’s Fall 2023 Husky Startup Challenge.

Every semester, the challenge offers students the opportunity to take part in a series of venture bootcamps. The entrepreneurs learn about various aspects of creating a business from ideation to prototyping. At the end of the program, the students compete in a Demo Day, presenting their business ideas in two-minute pitches in front of a larger audience.

Med Finder, Choi says, will focus on independent pharmacies and doctors who prescribe medications. 

“Most people don’t know that independent pharmacies exist in their neighborhood, because of lack of advertising and lack of manpower,” Choi says. “However, independent pharmacies have about 30% market share of retail pharmacies.”

The app will notify the user when the drug becomes available. Patients will be able to transfer their prescriptions from one pharmacy to another. They will also be able to see the cost of the drug after insurance and the distance from their current location to pharmacies.

Med Finder will help reduce the length of time a patient is not able to take their medication, Choi says, which will result in more sustainable treatment plans.

He wanted to be a health care professional

Choi was born in Seoul, South Korea, and his family moved to the U.S. when he was 15. While in high school, he attended a summer camp at University of Texas in Austin where he was exposed to different fields of medicine.

He knew he wanted to be a health care professional, but he didn’t know yet exactly what he wanted to do.

“I always had somewhere in my mind [an idea] that I wanted to open my own business,” he says.

Eventually, he thought of pharmacology and it all made sense to him — he could open an independent pharmacy. 

“The reason I chose Northeastern University is that I knew that Boston is one of the best cities in the world for technology and health care,” Choi says. 

PharmD, he says, is a great accelerated program that allows pharmacy students to graduate in a shorter period of time.

In spring 2023, Choi attended Demo Day as a spectator to support a friend who was pitching his venture. Observing the event made Choi think that he, too, could do the Husky Startup Challenge.

Junhyuk Choi typing on his laptop.
Northeastern Demo Day third place winner Junhyuk “Jay” Choi demonstrates how his app Med Finder will work. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Choi credits Mark Yorra, senior cooperative education coordinator and clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Northeastern, with helping him to come up with a solution to drug shortages.

‘Jay has always been a very curious student’

“Jay has always been a very curious student who had no previous pharmacy experience prior to coming to Northeastern,” says Yorra, who started working with Choi in the spring of 2021.

Yorra helped Choi obtain his first co-op at CVS Specialty Pharmacy in the summer of 2021 and his second co-op at Mount Auburn Hospital in the spring of 2022.  

The moment I saw those patients’ eyes desperate to get their medication on time, I thought I should do something about it. So that’s how I made up my mind to start this journey.

Junhyuk “Jay” Choi, a Northeastern student and the Demo Day third place winner

“Gaining experience in a community and hospital setting provided the foundation for his current project,” Yorra says. “I think Med Finder is a valuable tool to improve patient care, since without the medication, the patient is untreated.”

Yorra also introduced Choi to Eva Choi, a Northeastern graduate who runs an independent pharmacy, Tai Tung Pharmacy, in Boston’s Chinatown that serves the patients in the community. That is where Jay Choi thought of Med Finder as a solution for drug shortages, he says. 

Co-ops, Choi says, made him more passionate about what he was learning in his program and helped him memorize the names of countless drugs. He also worked at Argos, a growth-stage startup in the software development field.

“This experience helped me learn how startups work, which later on helped me organize and manage my team,” Choi says, “I really appreciate Northeastern University’s co-op program, which lets students gain experience in different fields not related to their major.”

Choi had experience in pharmacology, but not other aspects of creating an application or running a business, so he enlisted two of his Northeastern friends — one studying business and the other studying engineering. Another Northeastern graduate, also an engineer, became their technology adviser.

“It was such an honor,” Choi says. “I really appreciate my team, Northeastern students from different fields, who helped my venture to win this [Husky Startup Challenge] award. I would never have made it without them.”

While the application is being developed, Choi is working with IDEA, a student-led venture accelerator, on solidifying the business model of his venture and securing grant funding. 

“I am really grateful to Dr. Yorra’s help with connecting me to different independent pharmacies, and [I’m] also thankful for different professors from our pharmacy school who taught me valuable information and always tried to help me with this idea,” Choi says.