With less than two weeks left to apply to the 2021 IDea Incubator competition, now is the time to prepare your pitch and submit your application. For the second year in a row, the IDSA Foundation is collaborating with Johnson and Johnson Innovation – JLABS (‘JLABS’) to host the virtual pitch-style competition with the aim to find innovative potential solutions in infectious diseases care.
From funding to help advance your idea to receiving advice from experienced industry professionals, there are plenty of reasons to apply to the 2021 virtual IDea Incubator. This year, for the first time, applicants will also have an opportunity to apply for BLUE KNIGHT™ residency as part of their IDea Incubator application.
Vidya Atluri, MD, PhD, an ID fellow at the University of Washington, and Lahari Rampur, MD, an allergist at Kaiser Permanente Washington, participated in the virtual 2020 IDea Incubator and pitched their team’s innovation, PAL-ergy, a customizable mobile app designed to assist providers in handling allergies to beta-lactam antibiotics, such as penicillin, according to their institutional guidelines.
Dr. Atluri and Dr. Rampur received the third-place prize for PAL-ergy from the 2020 IDea Incubator competition along with team members Paul Pottinger, MD, DTM&H, FACP, FIDSA, physician and director of the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center, and Rupali Jain, PharmD, FIDSA, BCIDP, clinical associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington.
Dr. Atluri and Dr. Rampur told us more about PAL-ergy and shared insights on their experience pitching virtually at last year’s competition.
How did you learn about the IDea Incubator and what made you want to apply?
Dr. Atluri: I went to IDWeek for the first time in 2019, and I saw IDea Incubator there. It looked like a fun forum with everyone describing their innovations, and it was all really interesting. It was like nothing I ever thought I would do, but afterwards, when we started working on some clinical decision support tools, my mentor thought our tool should be something in every doctor’s pocket. He suggested applying. I looked into it and thought about it some more and thought it could work. So, we applied and took it one step at a time and went as far as it would take us, and we’re still going!
How did your team come together, and why did you decide to form PAL-ergy?
Dr. Rampur: I’m an allergist, so I was a part of the ID and pharmacy team. We were trying to minimize the use of alternative or second-line antibiotics, and we were working to come up with protocols to help clinicians and other health care providers evaluate people with penicillin allergies because most of the allergies are not real allergies. We were building an online app tool, so when Vidya came up with the idea to apply to IDea Incubator, it felt like the perfect thing to do. It gave us a platform to convert our idea into an app with far-reaching ability.
Tell us more about your innovation and how it will impact health care and the field of infectious diseases.
Dr. Atluri: It’s still in the early stages. We’re conducting small pilot studies within our own university with the tools that we already developed. I then went through a short business course to think about how to turn the idea into a business, since that’s something we never learned about in medical school. I applied what I learned to PAL-ergy, and we decided to narrow our initial target group to ambulatory surgical care centers.
I think PAL-ergy will reduce the use of alternative antibiotics, which from an ID perspective is great because the alternative antibiotics are not as effective. It also means there would be fewer surgical site infections for which we would need to give more antibiotics. As an ID doctor and antibiotic steward, that’s all helpful, and from a surgical perspective, it’s easier to give beta-lactam antibiotics. It works for everybody, which I think makes it a perfect starting point for the tool.
Dr. Rampur: It can also minimize other infections like C. diff and improve metrics like reducing hospitalization and the length of hospitalization, which helps the health care system.
How have the awarded funds allowed you to progress your innovation?
Dr. Atluri: Now that we have a target audience and a vision for what a targeted tool could look like, we’re developing story boards to present to our programmer to show exactly what we envision the tool to look like. Then, we’re going to use the IDea Incubator funds to pay the programmer.
Tell us about your experience presenting your innovation virtually at the 2020 IDea Incubator. Do you have any advice for this year’s participants on how they can make their virtual pitch impactful?
Dr. Atluri: The in-person competition involved being on a giant stage with a huge auditorium full of people. That would have been terrifying for me, so I loved having the competition in a virtual setting. It felt like a normal meeting that we have all the time these days. Anyone with any idea should be encouraged to apply because it’s just like going to a normal meeting.
With the virtual setting, you’re not limited to a static, simple PowerPoint presentation. You can use all of the media tools that are available to you to showcase your innovation and demonstrate how it can help people. Keep in mind that you can be more creative with this than you can with just a stand-up presentation, but don’t go overboard because it is just a short presentation.
Dr. Rampur: IDea Incubator has a great impact. With the many people involved, having it online makes some of us, including me, more comfortable. Many people will have ideas, but IDea Incubator gives the opportunity to showcase your ideas. A lot of people might wonder, “How do we materialize this?” or “What do we do with this idea?” That’s why IDea Incubator is helpful. Hearing from other people and how they did their project and took it to the next level gives you an opportunity to learn from others.
What did you enjoy most about the 2020 Virtual IDea Incubator?
Dr. Atluri: I enjoyed listening to the other finalists and seeing the innovations they’re working on. For example, Virtual PPE Training is not something I would ever have thought of, and it’s a really cool idea!
Dr. Rampur: I enjoyed preparing the pitch. I’m not used to that part, but I enjoyed preparing as a group and sharing ideas. I also appreciated the support from the IDSA Foundation team. They were systematic. They helped us rehearse, so everything went smoothly. I give credit for that to IDea Incubator. They were helpful and supportive.
What would you say to other entrepreneurs and big thinkers to encourage them to apply to the IDea Incubator?
Dr. Atluri: The application process was easy, and even just doing that helped us to solidify our thoughts on the project. Going through the application made me think that PAL-ergy could be a real thing. Overall, it was a fun and simple process. I think if anyone has any ideas, they should go for it because there’s no reason not to!
The other fun part about participating in IDea Incubator is that I don’t have many opportunities to involve my family in what I’m doing. But for this, because it’s such a varied population of people that we’re talking to, I was able to get my family involved. They had a great time watching it!
Dr. Rampur: For me, the ability to convert a tiny idea into something that is applicable to a larger population and that can make people’s lives easier was motivating.
The IDSA Foundation is committed to reducing the burdens of infectious diseases worldwide through research funding and workforce development. Why do you think it is important for Foundation supporters to invest in research funding opportunities like the IDea Incubator?
Dr. Atluri: IDea Incubator fills a gap. There are all of these grants for well-developed research ideas, and then there are resources for big businesses and for people who already understand that world. But there’s also a group of people like us who don’t have a business background and who have a small idea that isn’t necessarily going to receive the big R01 grants. Funding from the IDea Incubator can really help us with moving this project forward and seeing how far we can take it.
As you continue to develop PAL-ergy, where do you hope to see it grow?
Dr. Rampur: I would really like to see PAL-ergy develop into an app that we can share with the rest of the allergy, primary care and ID world to make people’s lives easier. If that happens, our mission is accomplished for this project.
Do you have an idea that could change the field of infectious diseases and improve patient care? Applications are open until July 8 for the 2021 IDea Incubator hosted by the IDSA Foundation in collaboration with Johnson and Johnson Innovation – JLABS.
For more information about competition rules or to watch last year’s event, including the PAL-ergy team’s pitch, please visit www.idsafoundation.org/ideaincubator.