CEO: Patrik Schmidle
Revenue: No revenue currently
No. of local employees: Two, Schmidle and an assistant
Investors: In addition to Schmidle, the business has received grants from the National Institute for Drug Abuse and the National Science Foundation
Headquarters: Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego
Year founded: 2015
What makes the company innovative: Cari Therapeutics has developed a chemical sensor for drugs, which can work with an app to help addicts in recovery
Patrik Schmidle holds up a clear plastic box with a tiny microchip, hardly visible, at its center.
“I saw it first yesterday,” Schmidle said, beaming. It took a year to get to this stage, and finally he has something he can hold in his hand.
The electronics measure 1.0mm to 1.5mm (the size of the letter D in the word “dime” on the back of a 10-cent piece). Once the chip is properly placed in a rice-grain-sized capsule, a doctor will be able to implant it under a patient’s skin, where it will evaluate the interstitial fluid — the fluid between cells that acts as a conduit for nutrients and waste.
Initially, the sensor will test for morphine. In the future, if all goes well, the sensor will be able to test for a variety of intoxicating substances, including narcotics.
Chip and App
The tiny chip makes up one half of a two-part set of tools that Schmidle’s business, Cari Therapeutics, is developing to help patients recovering from drug addiction. He is doing it with help from UC San Diego as well as federal funding — a $235,000 grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The other half of the solution is a smartphone/tablet app that recovering alcoholics or drug users will use, along with their caregivers.
The point is to keep patients from relapsing.
The app will be a diary of sorts, letting the recovering addict keep track of days spent sober, and keep track of his mood (rating where he is on the scale between calm and angry, for example, or on the scale between socially engaged and lonely). A patient’s description of mood might alert a therapist that the patient is inching closer to a relapse.
Self-reporting only goes so far, Schmidle said. People tend to report positive news, but they are not as willing to say they fell off the wagon.
So he is counting on the chip to do the rest of the talking.
The Diabetes Model
Like a diabetic’s continuous glucose monitor (think of products from Medtronic and Dexcom) the chip will take readings for opioids every 20 minutes and send that information to a smart wristband. In turn, the band will send the information to a smartphone, which will send it to the cloud.
The patient wearing the chip, of course, would have to give consent to be implanted and monitored. The upside is that medical providers could tell when their clients were headed toward a relapse, and provide help before a patient overdosed.
Schmidle said future versions of the chip might detect chemicals that reveal the wearer is under stress. That could raise another red flag for a caregiver.
Asked if anyone else was doing similar work, Schmidle said he knew of people working in sensors, but not for drug addiction treatment. But he added, it stands to reason that somebody is.
Cari Therapeutics’ chip leverages research by Drew Hall, a professor in UC San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department. UC San Diego has filed a provisional patent on the microchip.
‘Dashboard’ Offers Insights
Health care providers might not be the only ones who could monitor the sensor and the app.
In the future, a probation officer might review a “dashboard” of data from all of the people he supervises. If two probationers were showing a lot of stress and an additional three had relapsed, the officer could concentrate efforts on helping those five.
Schmidle, 47, reflected that his venture does not promise immediate riches. It will take several years, if not more than a decade, to find out whether everything will work according to plan.
Instead of taking the venture capital path, Schmidle expects Cari Therapeutics will have to rely on federal funding. With a $235,000 grant in hand, he is now working toward a follow-up grant.
Clearing the Insurance Hurdle
The acid test, which will be many year away, is whether insurers will agree to reimburse for Cari Therapeutics’ invention.
There appears to be an incentive. Schmidle said he has learned that addicts are three times as expensive to insurance companies as people without opioid disorders.
Cari Therapeutics is part of UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute innovation space. The National Science Foundation has funded a similar project from Schmidle that monitors alcohol use.
Also involved in the project is Dr. Carla Marienfeld, an addiction psychiatrist with UC San Diego Health.