With robots dispensing medication, startup hopes to halt deadly errors

Medical device firm RescueDose has developed devices able to automatically dispense liquid medication at the right doses

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The UniDose automated dispensing robot for nuclear medicine developed by RescueDose (YouTube screenshot)
The UniDose automated dispensing robot for nuclear medicine developed by RescueDose (YouTube screenshot)

RescueDose, an Israeli medical device company, has developed a robot that automatically dispenses medication to patients, cutting down on human error that can occur when liquid medications are prepared.

The World Health Organization said in 2017 that medication errors caused at least one death every day and injured some 1.3 million people annually in the US alone. These errors cost $42 billion annually, or almost 1% of total global health expenditure. That year, the WHO launched a global initiative to reduce medication associated errors globally by 50% over the next five years.

Everyone at some point in their lives will take medicine to treat or prevent illness. But if taken incorrectly, serious harm can be caused, the WHO said.

“Medication errors can be caused by health worker fatigue, overcrowding, staff shortages, poor training and the wrong information being given to patients, among other reasons. Any one of these, or a combination, can affect the prescribing, dispensing, consumption, and monitoring of medications, which can result in severe harm, disability and even death. Preventing errors and the harm that results requires putting systems and procedures in place to ensure the right patient receives the right medication at the right dose via the right route at the right time.”

It is in this niche that RescueDose, founded in 2006, is positioning itself. The firm’s aim is to do away with manual dispensing to make the process fully automatic.

The firm’s first product is a robot aimed at the nuclear medicine market. The robot automatically dispenses accurate doses of radioisotopes — radioactive materials needed when performing medical imaging, for example. This helps keep the doses accurate and cuts back on radiation exposure for staff members.

Generally, pharmaceutical staff manually prepare the radioactive dosage, which gets injected into the veins of patients before a scan by preparing it in a specific laminate chamber into which the staff inserts gloved hands to handle the material and prepare the syringes with the correct dose.

The UniDose robot developed by RescueDose (Courtesy)

The robot is ready for sales, said Eric Ben Mayor, the CEO of the company in a phone interview. Ben Mayor acquired the majority of the shares of RescueDose in 2017 through his holding company ERA Israel-Brazil. The company was founded by Gilad Einy and Dr. Eran Tal-Or, who developed the original technology. The initial robots have since been redeveloped and redesigned, said Ben Mayor.

The second robot will dispense medications in powder and liquid forms into ready-to-use IV bags, cutting back on errors when pharmacists prepare patient-specific chemotherapy formulations.

The robot software scans the required dosage from the patient’s original prescription — it can also be typed in — and the robot is then able to mix the medicated powders and liquids into the accurate dose, which is then labeled and ready to be delivered to patients.

The company has held pilots of its nuclear market UniDose robot with the University of Oklahoma and an unnamed US pharmaceutical group, said Ben Mayor. The pilots showed that the technology was 95% accurate in its dosage preparation, he said. The company is targeting Far East countries like China and Taiwan initially.

The ChemiDose robot, for chemotherapy preparations, is still in development, which Ben Mayor hopes will be completed by year end.

RescueDose says its competitors’ robots are much heavier and more expensive: RIVA System, which creates automated doses for medications via IV bags, has developed a 900-kilogram (2,000-pound) robot that costs $900,000. The Intellifill IV also creates automated doses for IV bags, with a machine that weighs 680 kilograms and costs $750,000. Omnicell IV Robotic Compounding’s machine weighs 1.2 tons and costs $1 million.

The robots developed by RescueDose are five times smaller and 20 times lighter that competing solutions, said Ben Mayor. The 25-kilogram (55-pound) UniDose robot costs $100,000, he said. The ChemiDose will weigh more and cost more, but it is not yet clear by how much, said Ben Mayor.

The firm, which has raised $4 million from private investors, is seeking to raise an additional $4 million from private investors that could also be strategic pharmaceutical partners, Ben Mayor said.

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