Engineer and inventor Alan Day, and paediatrician consultant Simon Bignall, were one of ten winning teams in our MedTechSouthEast programme. Here, they discuss their invention and how a new medicinal measuring device could save time, money and lives.

Measuring the problem

We know that there is roughly half a billion units of oral medicine dispensed to patients worldwide each year (with 20% of this amount falling within the self-administered category). We also know that drug errors are common when dosing liquid medication (a 5ml measure using a teaspoon can have a varying range between 10 - 40% alone). When you add to this the fact that nurses spend 40% of their time administering drug and medicines, many orally in liquid form, it's clear that there is a huge need for a device that delivers oral medication accurately and safely. 

Watch to see how Strawz medicine dispenser works:

Creating a solution

Strawz – the fixed-dose medicine dispenser and subsequent MedTechSouthEast winner – was initially inspired following an extended period of time that my wife and I spent at Guy's hospital with my son, who was having major surgery. During that time I could not fail to observe how complicated the task was of administering oral medicine to patients using syringes to extract doses from bottles. This led me to research the history of this method and its associated problems, which I discovered were documented as causing global concern. This inspired me to develop a solution that would make the task easier.

Following  on from making several basic prototypes, I commissioned  a working design that could precisely measure and deliver doses of medication accurately and with ease. At this point I was introduced to Simon, and we agreed to form a collaboration that would move the project forward. We both agreed that his additional specialist knowledge would be invaluable. It was now clear that my invention could have huge potential as a medical device for hospitals, hospices and care homes, where there was an ongoing problem administering accurate doses of liquid medication. 

Strawz offers a simple and precise method of administering liquid doses of medicine. It's a product that we really felt would connect with a global need to deliver oral medication (including self-administered medication) accurately and safely, and in a more efficient manner.

Accelerated success

Following the success of our original pitch to the Selection Panel at the MedTechSouthEast finalists’ event, we were placed on an accelerator programme where we received professional support from a team of Design Council experts. Their skills and knowledge helped us to gain a greater understanding of how our innovation should be developed and marketed so that its true potential could be realised.

Although we had a clear idea of the advantages that our invention was capable of offering, it was such a revelation to learn so much during the two-day intensive workshop at Design Council HQ. Our mentors have a history of getting inventions and designs off the ground and they really helped us to identify significant advantages our invention offered.  

Discovering our USP

The initial MedTechSouthEast competition had placed emphasis on products that could support the ever-increasing elderly community to live more independent lives. We believed that the advantages of patients being able to self-administer drugs and medicines in an easier format meant that our invention had a chance.

Although the experts agreed, they immediately flagged it was the dosing dispenser's  ability to deliver a very accurate dose that was in fact its unique selling point. We had blindly presumed that ease of use and timesaving –whereby a nurse, carer or parent could pick up and administer a required dose using only one hand – was the main advantage. However, one only need look at the numerous errors that are occurring every day due to overdosing or underdosing which result in primary and secondary intervention across all age groups to realise the massive need to measure dosages with accuracy and precision.

Placing the market

Working closely with our mentor, Rowena Vestey, we have become more aware and focused on where our market should be placed and the data we will need to gather and collate in order to support our final business development and marketing plan. We are now seeking quotes from injection moulders so that our working prototype can be developed into a small batch production of 500 units. This will give us the opportunity to run trials with focus groups so that we can obtain purposeful data, essential for development and marketing.

We have also been entered into the Independent Living category for the AXA PPP Health Tech & You awards, and should know by the end of February if we have been shortlisted.

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Feature — 06/02/2017