San Diego Business Journal

CARI Therapeutics, a business in residence at UC San Diego, has received federal funds to develop an implantable biosensor that could detect opioids in the bodies of patients recovering from drug problems.

The company recently received a $235,000 grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, the university announced on Aug. 10.

The business plans to create a prototype sensor, about the size of a rice grain, that could be injected under the skin to detect opioids (specifically morphine) in the fluid between cells. Data from the sensor would go to a mobile device, which could send it along to the cloud.

The implanted morphine sensor would take readings periodically, like a continuous glucose monitor. Company CEO Patrik Schmidle said such an arrangement could provide information in close to real time, and more quickly than the conventional urine or blood test — which can be demeaning and inconvenient.

With the patient’s consent and with the help of the patient’s treatment team, “the hope is that we can speed up the process of identifying when people are relapsing and get them help before they overdose,” Schmidle said.

Future versions of the sensor might screen for multiple drugs.

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.

The sensor piggybacks on research by Drew Hall, a professor in the university’s electrical and computer engineering department. Also involved in the project is Dr. Carla Marienfeld, an addiction psychiatrist with UC San Diego Health.

The recent federal award is a phase I Small Technology Transfer Innovation Research grant.