Evan and Eric Edwards developed Auvi-Q, which launched in January
Their idea started the summer after they graduated high school
The Edwards twins say the patients are the real allergy experts
Editor’s Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Evan and Eric Edwards have life-threatening allergies and wanted to develop a better way to deliver epinephrine, a drug used to treat serious allergic reactions. Their vision started shortly after graduating from high school and became a reality soon afterward.
As young children, the stress and burden of our life-threatening allergies to a range of common foods, including nuts, seafood, shellfish, eggs and other substances, really fell on our parents more than us.
Like many kids, we were unaware and felt invincible. We didn’t worry too much about managing our allergies. That changed after the first severe allergic reaction either of us had.
Evan was playing at a friend’s house when he ate what he had been assured was a “fake peanut.” Almost immediately, it was apparent that something was very, very wrong. Luckily, his friend’s dad also happened to be Evan’s doctor; he treated him immediately, and the incident was resolved.
Life-threatening allergies were much less common when we went to school, so we really stood out as the “strange twins with allergies” – those guys who had to sit at a separate table by themselves at lunchtime. It is unfortunate that severe allergies are much more widespread now, but there is a silver lining: People and organizations are more aware and better able to support the children and adults who suffer.
The idea to develop a new epinephrine auto-injector (commonly known as an EpiPen), specifically designed for the needs of patients like us, came about the summer after we graduated high school. We were on our way to a family vacation in Europe, and it looked as if, once again, the two of us had not packed our EpiPens. They were too bulky so we often didn’t carry them.
After the usual finger-pointing and questions about why we didn’t carry something that could save our lives, the idea of developing a smaller, more portable type of epinephrine auto-injector was born.
At the time, we had recently selected our college majors. (Evan went into the engineering program at the University of Virginia, and Eric chose pre-med/medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University.) We decided to customize our education to develop the skills necessary to make this invention a reality. At the start of each school year we reviewed our course options and decided together which classes to take that would help us achieve our goal.
Our first real funding came from winning a collegiate inventors’ grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. It was at that point we knew we were on our way.
Soon after we confirmed what we had already suspected: that developing a new pharmaceutical product is extremely complicated. To do it successfully would require deep industry expertise. We founded Intelliject, which now has a leadership team with more than 100 years of combined experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
We are fortunate to work with a team of industry veterans who are just as committed to patients as we are. As we say, the patients are the real experts – we just need to create the opportunities to capture their insight and design products that truly address their needs. Our entire approach puts the user at the center of development from the beginning of the process.
It is hard to describe the feeling now that Auvi-Q – the epinephrine auto-injector that is a culmination of the ideas we had all those years ago – is available in pharmacies across the United States (and as Allerject in Canada).
If you had asked us on the day of the launch in January, we would have told you that it simply can’t get any better than this. But we were wrong.
About a month after Auvi-Q’s launch, we read a Facebook post in which a mother described how her daughter had a severe allergic reaction. She described how Auvi-Q helped her by “having a voice walking through the steps in an emergency situation.” In her opinion, Auvi-Q saved her daughter’s life.
We can confidently say that there is no better feeling than that.