EpiPen, with Occasional Music

This is an Auvi-Q.  It’s an epinephrine autoinjector—basically an EpiPen—so that folks with severe allergies to bees or shellfish or whatever don’t have to die suddenly.  The neat thing about Auvi-Q: It talks!

(My boy has a pal with a couple severe allergies, and so said pal always comes with an autoinjector; this was what he was using a couple years back, when I made the video.)

Here’s the thing about epinephrine: It saves lives, it’s cheap as hell—the amount needed to save a life hardly costs a buck—and it can’t be patented, because it’s just nature’s way: Giving someone heading into anaphylactic shock an epinephrine shot is basically doing what the body would do on its own if it could, with the very stuff the body would use to do it.

But you can hardly expect a stranger in an emergency to whip out a syringe and a tiny bottle and not fuck things up.  So the autoinjector (i.e., “EpiPen”—which you may have heard about for recently for some reason) is a legit and important product improvement.  It ain’t a $500 improvement, but there’s definite value to an autoinjector, and the EpiPen is an excellent one.

Auvi-Q took the autoinjector one step further by making the EpiPen-Auto-Injectordevice talk you through the process.  And, when it came out, it was cheaper than the EpiPen (which, at the time, was midway through it’s moon-shot price hike, which drove a meteoric revenue boost for Mylan—the company selling EpiPens; check the graph).

I mostly thought to bring this up because it’s a neat business lesson:

  1. Autoinjectors are a great product: The medicine itself isn’t a great product (it’s just sorta there, like water or yeast), but making it easier to administer is a great place to improve, and folks will gladly pay for that.
  2. Auvi-Q was a fantastic product addressing a very real pain point: Normal humans often hesitate to even do the EpiPen thing, because they are terrified of fucking up. People with EpiPens die because no one has the presence of mind and confidence to juice them in time.  Lowering the “threshold resistance” is always a place to make a dime.
  3. It’s a great example of the Free Market at work: Just as the Free Market first brought us EpiPen (you can’t patent the drug, but you can patent the delivery method), it then brought us the Auvi-Q (you can’t compete on efficacy, but you can on packaging and price).

But then the “EpiPencil“—a $30 DIY EpiPen workalike—hit the news feeds, and I thought it was worthwhile to point out one last lesson in the product arc of Auvi-Q:

  • Auvi-Q—a product that was both cheaper and, by some measures, better than EpiPen—was recalled in 2015 because it wasn’t reliable dosing people at the right level—which can be deadly.

The point being: A problem can be well defined, its solution known and well understood, and yet implementation on scale can still be an absolute clusterfuck. 

Which is why EpiPencil worries the fuck out of me.  Does it work for the dude giving the instructions?  Maybe; I have no clue.  Probably.  But will it work for millions upon millions of people with diverse biologies in diverse settings having suffered diverse misshaps?  Fantastically unfuckinglikely.

Please don’t leave your kids’ survival up to a self-declared DIY Internet doctor (who is, in fact a PhD mathemetician).

(title comes with apologies to Jonathan mathematician, whose work I love)