By Henry Ehrlich
Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok [understand] what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.—Steven Jobs
Why am I quoting Steve Jobs? What does design have to do with the new entry into the life-saving injectable epinephrine market? The morning after my visit with AAC.com contributor and author Susan Weissman to the social-media summit at Sanofi in Bridgewater, New Jersey, I’d say it has more to do with it than I ever expected.
The program began with a talk by Dr. John Oppenheimer, formerly of National Jewish in Denver and currently in private practice in New Jersey as well as Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Associate Editor of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Several things he said stood out. One was to cite a subject we have written about here—the misunderstanding of anaphylaxis by emergency department doctors. A second was the remarkable growth of exercise-induced anaphylaxis. A third was that he specifically cautions against administration of Benadryl as a first resort because the sedative effects can mask the onset of more serious symptoms like plunging blood pressure. And finally his observation that allergy practice frequently seems more like a matter of “risk management” than a healing art, or words to that effect. I hope to get Dr. Oppenheimer to write for us soon.
Returning to the product itself, we heard the story again of the inventors, twin brothers who suffer from life-threatening allergies, Eric and Evan Edwards, and co-founders of Intelliject, Inc., but in greater and more amusing detail. They have been conjuring with ideas for changing the way epinephrine is delivered since they embarked on a family vacation to Europe only to realize they had forgotten their injectors. They were less fearful of ingesting their foods than of telling Mom what they had done, but Mom in her wisdom had packed some spares. What is it about autoinjectors that makes teenage boys so “forgetful”? Answering that question is the heart of this product.
For an autoinjector, there’s no end to the relative coolness of the Auvi-Q™. Start with the somewhat confusing name—short for audible-visual cues; it not only talks, it has picture prompts. Then there’s the size, similar to a credit card in area and a cellphone in thickness. It will doubtlessly spawn a cottage industry in carrying cases, but my personal favorite (betraying my age) would be to roll it up in the sleeve of a tee shirt a la James Dean when cigarettes were cool. (For the record, the word from the Weissman household is, “I love it! I want one.”)
Product basics: Auvi-Q™comes with two injector units and a trainer, which is colored differently and doesn’t have a needle, but is otherwise identical so that patients, parents, and caregivers can practice using the same audible and visual prompts as the injectors. The battery life for the trainer has enough juice for hundreds of practice sessions so the kids can show it to their friends until they get tired of it, and it will still have enough to instruct a rotating cast of teachers, grandparents, and baby sitters. The live injectors come in two strengths–one for small children and one for everyone else. For caregivers, there’s the added benefit that you never see a needle, and I can only imagine that some grandparent would feel less inhibited about using it for that reason. When you consider that a fraction of those who should carry an autoinjector actually do so, you can’t help but think that a version of Apple-ish intuitive usage and design might expand the numbers.
As to availability and pricing—it will be rolled out by the end of the current quarter and will be competitive with the competition, with the specific cost contingent on your insurance plan. Assistance will be forthcoming based on need like most costly pharmaceutical products.
I have no special stake in this. Auvi-Q™ will prove its worth the first time some teenager saves his own life because he thinks it’s cool enough to take his injector along for a night with his friends. I think Steve Jobs would like that.
(Sanofi sent a car for Susan and me–which is just as well because I always get lost in New Jersey–and fed us an assortment of allergy-friendly snacks and lunch entrees.)