GoodSIRS took home the first-ever $25,000 MIT Healthcare Innovations Prize Feb. 25 at the opening event of the MIT Sloan Healthcare and Bioinnovations Conference. The startup created a blood-filtering device that offers hope for a treatment for sepsis, which claims a quarter million lives each year.
This was the first pitch competition at the annual conference, sponsored by GE Ventures.
Dr. Brian McAlvin, a GoodSIRS co-founder and an intensive care unit physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as an MIT researcher, opened the team’s pitch with a story of four-year-old “Sarah,” who developed a rash. Within hours, her organs began failing. Sarah survived, but only after amputation of all her extremities.
“Sepsis is an infection that triggers an overwhelming immune response that leads to organ failure,” McAlvin said. Systematic inflammatory response syndrome, or SIRS, is a cytokine storm—an overproduction of proteins in the blood that triggers an immune response.
The GoodSIRS device selectively removes cytokines, leaving blood factors that are beneficial, showing a 100 percent success rate in animals in scenarios that are usually fatal, McAlvin said. It differs from dialysis in its selectivity, where other blood filtering methods cannot discriminate between blood factors, he said. The device is designed to fit within existing dialysis machines for easier implementation.
McAlvin began his pitching experience last fall, when the newly-formed GoodSIRS won both first prize and audience choice at the MIT $100K Pitch Competition. Since then, the pediatric physician’s appreciation for entrepreneurship has grown. He’s enrolled in courses through a biotech collaborative of Boston teaching hospitals that teaches commercialization of ideas.
“I tend be interested in the science and clinical aspects,” McAlvin said. “I’m learning through this process that that’s not necessarily what drives a successful company. You have to design experiments to show something is practical to risk. That might not be scientifically interesting, but may be crucial to show that your product works and that you take the risk out of it.”
“But it’s about the team more than anything,” he said. “We think the science is good and the idea is good, but it really is the team that drives it. We generate the idea, we’re passionate about it, and I’ve learned to find good people who we trust and that we can rely on to really move this forward and commercialize it.”
The GoodSIRS team includes Dr. Daniel Kohane, director of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery, Brian Timko from Kohane’s lab, and Anne-Marie Schoonbeek, a first-year Harvard Business School student.
The $4,000 second prize went to NoUV, which is developing a tanning bed that works without cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. Presented by Brandon Law, a Harvard Medical School student, the product is being developed with Dr. Rox Anderson, SB ’72, inventor of laser hair removal.
Audience choice, a $1,000 prize, went to recent MIT $100K Accelerate Competition winner Astraeus Technologies, which is developing a lung cancer screening test based on gas detection in human breath.
Eight finalists presented at the competition, held at the MIT Media Lab, culled from 20 semi-finalists among 58 applicants. According to conference co-chair Matija Dreze, MBA ’16, finalists were given a three-hour workshop on presentation skills for the health care industry with Andrey Zarur, lecturer at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.