EpiPens have been in the news recently because their manufacturer, Mylan, raised prices by 600%, and is accused of antitrust violations over its deal with New York City schools, requiring that they not buy competing products in order to get a discount.
This is not about finding a solution to the pricing issue, but another need users of EpiPens have.
The value of an EpiPen in saving lives is undisputed, and millions have come to depend on the product. Sandy and Eric Wengreen, of Seattle, Washington, found out how useful the product is in a way none of us would want to experience.
While on vacation, their 7-year-old son suddenly experienced an allergic reaction to macadamia nuts, having never shown an allergy to nuts before. They took him to a neighbor, a doctor, who became alarmed at the boy’s symptoms and told them to rush him to the hospital emergency room. Their son went into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition that can cause death if not quickly treated. Fortunately, 24 hours later he recovered, assisted by an injection from an EpiPen at the hospital.
That life-changing event taught the family the importance of carrying an EpiPen everywhere they go. But they soon learned that the EpiPen needs to be kept at room temperature for it to remain effective. If it reaches a more extreme temperature, the product needs to be discarded. There’s even a heat-sensitive sticker on the pen that changes color when that occurs.
That meant that the family could no longer go anywhere the temperature was less than 60 degrees or more than 85 degrees. No hiking, skiing or winter sports, and no beach. That meant that they needed to stay at home much of the time.
Eric, a Stanford-educated mechanical engineer, went to work to find a solution, using his background in product development. He’s a self-employed engineer who has developed other products, and would use the proceeds from them to fund this effort.
He began by buying dozens of thermos bottles designed to keep drinks cold and hot, ran extensive testing, but found that, while useful for drinks, they were unable to maintain the EpiPen medication at room temperature. Maintaining a high or low temperature was a lot easier.
For the past three years Eric has been working to find a solution and, fortunately for his son and the more than 100,000 others who experience this problem each year, has finally has succeeded.
The patented product is called the EpiShell. It’s a container that will maintain its contents at room temperature for 24 hours, even when subjected to extreme cold and hot environments. The system contains a sealed liquid cell inside the container that releases heat when it’s cold outside and absorbs heat when it’s hot outside. It uses what he describes as advanced EpiCells that reset to room temperature when indoors and then release or absorb heat as necessary when outdoors.
The container is constructed of a high grade of stainless steel that is able to withstand accidental drops. It has a high level of thermal insulation and a uniquely designed insulated cap.
One of the big challenges, Eric explained to me, was finding a design that worked and yet still could be made small enough to be carried everywhere. The container is 3 inches in diameter and slightly longer than the EpiPen in its packaging.
The EpiShell will be going into production shortly and will be available in about 90 days. The company is now taking advanced orders on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site. An EpiShell that holds one EpiPen costs $40. A larger version for two pens is $50. The product is expected to retail for $70 to $80 once it reaches the market early next year.
Eric and Sandy’s company is not connected with the maker of EpiPens. In fact, they have had no contact with the company, other than having to pay $400 for each EpiPen at Costco. Eric is hopeful that the price will drop because of all of the publicity and the FDA fast-tracking competitive products.