Indiana Life Sciences Entrepreneurs Shine in Silicon Valley

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Pinpoint Pharma (left) and Brightlamp are working with the Purdue Foundry to develop their technologies. Pinpoint Pharma (left) and Brightlamp are working with the Purdue Foundry to develop their technologies.

Eight Indiana-based early-stage startups took a trip to Silicon Valley to showcase Hoosier ingenuity, entrepreneurship and the state’s blossoming tech industry. The group, hosted by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, set up shop in Startup Alley during the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Conference earlier this month in San Francisco. Entrepreneurs leading West Lafayette-based Pinpoint Pharma and Indianapolis-based Brightlamp believe their companies, in particular, are evidence of a uniquely Indiana intersection: the convergence of tech and life sciences.

“A lot of people were unaware of Indiana’s tech scene, mainly because they don’t think about the Midwest as being a good breeding ground,” says Brightlamp founder and Chief Executive Officer Kurtis Sluss. “I think people were surprised; they’d say, ‘I had no idea this level of ingenuity or entrepreneurship was occurring in Indiana.’”

Brightlamp is creating a smartphone app to detect a concussion within seconds. The startup has created software that measures a person’s pupillary light reflex, which is the constriction of the pupil when exposed to bright light. Brightlamp says its app will use a smartphone to create a flash of light and record five seconds of video of the person’s eye. The video is uploaded to the cloud, analyzed, and the app will tell the user within seconds if the results indicate a concussion.

“The current estimates in literature are that 84 percent of concussions go undiagnosed,” says Sluss, a 2016 Purdue University graduate. “The idea is to have a quick, five-second tool to empower people to be able to test themselves, or have somebody test them, so you can know immediately. Then we prevent those long-term effects like depression, CTE and mood swings.”

Brightlamp is partnering with Indiana University Health, where physicians are evaluating the startup’s base technology that measures the pupillary light reflex to indicate a concussion. Sluss says the clinical study will help build out the technology and develop the app. Brightlamp is also developing a second app, called Tipsee, that will use the same eye reflex to determine the user’s alcohol intoxication level.

Based in West Lafayette, Pinpoint Pharma wants to make sure medications for pets are just what the doctor ordered. The startup has created a robotic device that “prints” customized medications for pets. The innovation is designed to replace the traditional method of creating customized medications, which are drugs not readily available off-the-shelf.

“The traditional model uses compounding pharmacies [to create customized medications],” says Pinpoint Pharma co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Arun Giridhar. “Currently, that’s done largely by hand.”

Traditionally, pharmacists will weigh, measure and mix the formula and pack it into the final dosage form; all of which can take an hour, says Giridhar. Pinpoint Pharma has created an automated machine that “prints” one dose per second. Giridhar says the technology is more efficient and accurate than conventional methods.

“Pharmacists currently have to simultaneously pay attention to [the chemistry involved], as well as the more mechanical aspects, like mixing powders and combining and weighing things. Our machine is taking all of the grunt work out of what the pharmacist has to do,” says Giridhar. “The machine also has much higher precision; it can go down to one-hundredth of a milligram per dose, and we get assurance for every single dose of how much there is.”

Both Pinpoint Pharma and Brightlamp are working with the Purdue Foundry to develop their technologies. The startups are hopeful connections made at the TechCrunch conference could open more doors for their companies and fan the flame in Indiana where tech and life sciences meet.

Giridhar says Pinpoint Pharma’s printer does not replace pharmacists, but enhances their capabilities.
Sluss says finding talent is the main challenge when growing a tech company in Indiana.
Sluss says reaching the ultimate goal for the app will require approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
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