While in high school in California, Tianyi Jonathan Xing heard about a Tibetan nun temple destroyed by a mudslide, leaving occupants without a home or belongings. Disturbed by what he saw as an inadequate response to their predicament, Xing collaborated with a famous Chinese music producer, Feng Xiao’bo, to publicize the nuns’ plight.
“People easily donated a great deal of money to projects for Buddhist monks, but not for nuns,” says Xing, who met the producer through his parents. Raising around $250,000 after publicizing the situation on Chinese news stations, Xing and Xiao’bo were able to pay to rebuild the temple.
It would not be the only time Xing, now a Booth Weekend MBA student, wanted to help those in need. In 2009, the sister of his good friend Alina Su was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency. He was saddened as he saw her struggling with treatment and frequently fleeing her parents’ attempts to give her prescribed daily injections, because she feared needles.
This experience later inspired both Xing and Su—currently a PhD candidate in biomedical research and clinical applications at Harvard Medical School—to cofound NovaXS, an innovative health-care startup based in California that focuses on delivering medications to patients without needles.
“Couples want to have babies, but the current IVF process is difficult and expensive. We’d like to change that.”
Improving Medical Delivery of Drugs
NovaXS, which launched in January 2021, is currently refining a device the team developed for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The latter is the most common type of a group of diseases that break down muscles that control movement.
For IVF, patients need around 148 total injections of four medications; missing a dosage could cost a whole reproductive cycle.
“Couples want to have babies, but the current IVF process is difficult and expensive. We’d like to change that,” Xing says.
The current system is also stressful and time consuming, he adds. “Keeping track of dosages and your treatment schedule, monitoring your own progress, and not having a clear line of communication with your doctor all make managing treatment a part-time job. That’s why over 50 percent of medications for chronic disease aren’t taken as prescribed—which means patients don’t get better, and their health care costs go up.”
The company’s needle-free device, which patients can hold in one hand, can push treatment into the body’s subcutaneous and intramuscular levels within 0.3 seconds using liquid pressure—saving patients from painful and intimidating encounters with sharp objects, Xing explains. “This makes the drug delivery process easier, less painful, and less stressful.”
The device integrates with a smartphone app, so doctors can track patients’ progress and analyze injection data.
NovaXS is working with several IVF clinics to determine the best treatment delivery methods, including the number of injections. The company recently signed up with the UI Health (University of Illinois at Chicago) maternity center to conduct preclinical studies by early next year. They expect to have data ready to submit to the FDA in 2023, with device completion by early 2024, says Xing.
IVF centers and patients have shown significant interest; the University of Illinois, the private company La Jolla IVF, and others have pledged their intent to try the technology following FDA approval.
The company has a research partnership with the University of California at Berkeley and is a member of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, which selects 3–5 startups per quarter to help identify problems. Xing has also secured investments from large companies, such as Baxter International and Edward-Elmhurst Health, and is applying for a National Institutes of Health grant to support clinical studies.
“I’m new to Chicago, but Booth and mHUB have helped me meet interesting people and build many great connections.”
Finding Guidance and Support at Booth
Without a scientific background, Xing says he found it difficult at first to build a health-care startup. But in Booth classes, he’s identified ways to pinpoint the major needs of potential clients. This work guided the company in choosing IVF as a major target, and later applications in diabetes, allergies, and other conditions, says Xing.
At the same time Xing was admitted to Booth, NovaXS was admitted to the Chicago-based hardware manufacturing startup accelerator mHUB, which helps early-stage startups secure funding and prototyping resources.
“The two programs work so well together,” says Xing. “I’m new to Chicago, but Booth and mHUB have helped me meet interesting people and build many great connections.”
Along with providing ways to network with alumni and current students, Booth also allowed him to find NovaXS’s next sales leader. In one of Xing’s early courses at Booth, Entrepreneurial Selling with Michael Alter, clinical professor of entrepreneurship, guest speaker Jim McAvoy became interested in NovaXS and joined the company. McAvoy has over 30 years of experience finding leads for health care and managed-care companies as president of JWMcAvoy & Company.
Xing looks forward to his company’s future developments.
“Research discovery in IVF and other medical areas has accelerated in the past 15 years, but we’re still at needles,” observes Xing. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, health care became more accessible at home, but there’s still no device providing treatment monitoring for these areas in remote health care. Our device can track treatment, and we’re excited to help patients.”
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