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Accelerator pitch: Rebekah Scheuerle of JustMilk

11 June 2015

The article at a glance

Can you pitch your genius business idea in the time it takes to get from the ground floor to the C-suite? JustMilk’s …

Can you pitch your genius business idea in the time it takes to get from the ground floor to the C-suite? JustMilk’s Rebekah Scheuerle, on the CJBS Accelerate Cambridge programme, takes on the challenge.

mother with baby

The background

Every year, nearly three million babies die within the first month after birth. Many of these deaths are easily preventable by administration of drugs or nutrients – but getting those vital substances into babies is a huge problem, especially because hygienic, accurate dosing methods for appropriate child medications are in short supply. Consequently, there’s a great need for new and innovative drug delivery methods for infants in low- and middle-income countries. The JustMilk project could be the answer.

The brains

I’m Rebekah Scheuerle, researcher at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. My colleagues are: co-founder and co-inventor Dr Stephen Gerrard; CEO and co-founder Geoff Galgon; co-founder and logistics manager Aspen Flynn; and social media coordinator Isabella Gariboldi. The project is currently funded by grants including a Saving Lives at Birth seed grant and a grant from Venture Well (previously the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance).

The product

JustMilk is developing a low-cost nipple shield adapted to safely deliver drugs or nutrients to babies when worn by mothers during breastfeeding. A solid therapeutic is placed inside the shield and, as the baby feeds, the medication is released into the milk consumed by the baby.

The business case

Our product may solve many drug administration challenges in resource-limited settings. When using the technology, the mother won’t have to measure out medicine (avoiding dosing errors) or use any other means of administration, such as syringes or spoons that might not be cleaned correctly. Medication storage can also be challenging in these settings. Liquid medication often requires refrigeration, so having the medicine in solid form will make it easier to store, and could give it a longer shelf-life. The technology could also be used in the developed world as a convenience product that provides a potentially more natural means of giving medicines to babies.

The timing

In 2008, at an International Development Design Summit (IDDS) at MIT, participants were challenged to invent a product to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission. The result was the original JustMilk idea. One inventor, Stephen Gerrard, then brought the project to Cambridge. Since then, the scope of the project has broadened. The device is being considered as a potential means of not just administering antiretrovirals or antimicrobials, but also other medications and nutrients. Right now, we have a non-profit organisation and a diverse network of international partners. We are currently testing different prototypes, and looking at different formulations of medicine we could administer in collaboration with University College London’s School of Pharmacy. We are also working with the University of Venda in South Africa to assess community level requirements. We’re hoping to enter clinical trials in the next two years for the first medicine we choose to put in it.

The strategy for growth

We ultimately want to license the technology to pharmaceutical companies. In preparing for that, we’re continuing research and development, engaging various communities for their input into the design, and developing manufacturing and packaging strategies.

The future

We’re looking at the main causes of childhood morbidity and thinking about how we can use the technology to overcome these. We are currently considering using the technology to administer medications such as vitamins, nutrients, antimalarials and zinc in combination with oral rehydration salts.

The Accelerator

We’ve just finished the pre-Accelerate programme and have really benefited from being part of it, particularly because of the quality of mentorship. It has really supported our business development and strategy as well as supplied us with a broad and diverse network of skilled content experts and entrepreneurs. Additionally, we have learned so much through the programme, particularly regarding business models, IP generation and partnership formation.

The JustMilk product is made possible through the generous support of the Saving Lives at Birth partners: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK Government. This interview reflects the views of Rebekah Scheuerle and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Saving Lives at Birth partners. Rebekah is generously funded by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

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