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Research & Innovation Campus

Children’s National pain expert and innovator shares global summit spotlight

Research & Innovation Campus

As a Johnson & Johnson Innovation Quickfire Children’s Challenge awardee, Dr. Finkel and AlgometRx will be among the first group of startups taking up residence at the new JLABS @ Washington, DC, located on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, when it opens in 2021 at the historic former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site.

Medical technology innovator Julia Finkel, M.D., principal investigator for the Pain Medicine Initiative of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital, recently participated in Galen Growth’s 2020 Global Healthtech Summit on a virtual panel featuring resident companies from Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS who are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) with the aim to create advanced solutions for diagnostics, treatment and clinical trials. The summit, hosted in Singapore, brought the innovators together to discuss their views on their progress, the challenges and opportunities for bringing medtech innovations to market in the current climate, as well as the tools needed to succeed.

Dr. Finkel’s innovation, AlgometRx, is a real-time pain measurement technology that captures a digital image of a patient’s pupillary response to a non-invasive stimulus and applies proprietary algorithms to measure pain type and intensity. AlgometRx, a spin-off of Children’s National, recently received a JLABS @Washington DC Quickfire Children’s Challenge award.

Joining Dr. Finkel on the panel were JLABS resident company leaders Don Crawford, CEO, Analytics 4 Life; Jim Havelka, CEO, Inform AI; and Kim Walpole, CEO, Trials.ai, which leverages AI to help research teams design more effective clinical trials. The 50-minute program, moderated by Kara Bortone, senior director, Portfolio and Sourcing Management, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, focused on topics such as how these startups approached the market and regulatory processes as well as the up-and-coming trends in health technology.

A pediatric anesthesiologist, Dr. Finkel explained the significance of achieving real-time, objective pain measurement. “Pain is one word that represents a myriad of conditions,” she says. “Pain from acute post-operative conditions is very different from peripheral neuropathic pain and different from the type of inflammatory pain seen in lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Being able to discern the drivers of pain, the etiology, is essential to treating it well and to developing better therapeutics in the future.”

Dr. Finkel points out that AlgometRx measures nociception, which is pain fiber activation, and that is also what medications are addressing. “We’re not discounting a patient’s perception of pain, as we recognize that one’s experience of pain is very complex,” she says. “What we aim to measure is the activity being transmitted by the pain nerve and the type of nerve fiber that is doing the transmitting.”

Aiming to identify pain phenotypes is an important part of current AlgometRx development work, says Dr. Finkel, as it could significantly aid clinical decision-making in treating and monitoring patients’ pain. The company’s current regulatory focus is to seek FDA clearance related to its potential use for patients with peripheral neuropathy, which is pain and numbness resulting from damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. The company has also identified fibromyalgia cases as a place where the technology could potentially benefit a large number of patients as it considers regulatory clearance targets.

As the COVID-19 pandemic presented many unique challenges to healthcare startups this year, panel participants were asked to discuss the hurdles they faced and how it impacted device development.

Dr. Finkel notes that the pandemic slowed patient enrollment in AlgometRx clinical studies, but also presented some upside. “At first, that had a negative impact, but it wound up being a good thing,” she says. “It gave us a moment to pause, regroup and examine the data we’d already generated. That break gave us improved information and a new, more powerful approach. It changed our trajectory by altering our regulatory path in terms of the order of things in our pipeline, so we’ve been enormously productive.”

As a Johnson & Johnson Innovation Quickfire Children’s Challenge awardee, Dr. Finkel and AlgometRx will be among the first group of startups taking up residence at the new JLABS @ Washington, DC, located on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, when it opens in 2021 at the historic former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site. Along with a one-year residency at the new JLABS @ Washington DC facility,* AlgometRx will receive mentorship from experts at the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies and grant funding to help support its continued advancement to commercialization.

*Residency at JLABS @ Washington subject to acceptance and execution of a License Agreement with Children’s National.

Julia Finkel

Two Children’s National spin-outs join Johnson & Johnson–JLABS

Julia Finkel

AlgometRx, which joins JPOD @ Philadelphia, was founded by Julia Finkel, M.D., pediatric anesthesiologist and director of Pain Medicine and Research at Children’s Sheikh Zayed Institute.

AlgometRx and Adipomics, two companies that spun out of innovations discovered at Children’s National Health System, have been selected by Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS to join JPOD @ Philadelphia and JPOD @ Boston, respectively.

JLABS is a global network of no-strings-attached incubators for innovative companies from across the pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health technology sectors. Start-up companies are free to pursue their own research priorities independently, with access to state-of-the-art facilities to develop new drugs, medical devices, precision diagnostics and health technologies for people around the world.

Both companies got their start at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National. The Institute focuses on research and innovation that can improve health for children everywhere.

AlgometRx, which joins JPOD @ Philadelphia, was founded by Julia Finkel, M.D., pediatric anesthesiologist and director of Pain Medicine and Research at Children’s Sheikh Zayed Institute. The AlgometRx device is a first-of-its-kind platform technology that aims to objectively measure pain intensity, type and drug effects in real time by capturing a digital image of a patient’s pupillary light response and applying a series of proprietary algorithms to various characteristics.

AlgometRx is designed to provide an objective pain measurement that aims to help physicians select the correct analgesic class of drug and dosage. By optimizing pain assessment, drug selection and drug management, AlgometRx aims to impact the opioid epidemic and the monitoring and management of Opioid Use Disorder.

Robert Freishtat and Evan Nadler

Adipomics, which joins JPOD @ Boston, was co-founded by Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H., senior investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine of the Children’s Research Institute and chief of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National, and pediatric surgeon Evan P. Nadler, M.D., co-director of the Obesity Program and director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Children’s National.

Adipomics, which joins JPOD @ Boston, was co-founded by pediatric surgeon Evan P. Nadler, M.D., co-director of the Obesity Program and director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Children’s National, and Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H., senior investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine of the Children’s Research Institute and chief of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National. Adipomics was founded with the aim to address the global epidemic of obesity-related diseases including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. World health experts predict that one billion people worldwide will be obese by 2030.

Drs. Nadler and Freishtat discovered that exosomes released from fat cells (adipocytes) carry genetic material that can mediate various diseases related to obesity. Through their research, they developed a proprietary method that aims to detect how obesity affects an individual patient’s metabolism before the onset of overt disease. Adipomics aims to create the first non-invasive, “anticipatory medicine” diagnostic that detects risk for obesity-related diseases prior to the onset of clinical signs or even biochemical abnormalities. If successful, this predictive methodology would enable treatment much earlier in the disease process, which is likely to improve effectiveness.

A recent news release from Children’s National provides more details on these innovations.

As organizations that share a commitment to improving the pace of healthcare innovation, Children’s National and Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS also recently announced their collaboration to launch JLABS @ Washington, DC,  a 32,000-square foot facility to be located at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus in Washington, D.C. The JLABS @ Washington, DC will have the capacity to house up to 50 pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health technology companies that are aiming to advance the development of new drugs, medical devices, precision diagnostics and health technologies, including applications in pediatrics. The campus is located on a 12-acre portion of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus in the nation’s capital and is slated to open in 2020, coinciding with the 150th Anniversary of Children’s National Health System.

AlgometRX

Breakthrough device objectively measures pain type, intensity and drug effects

AlgometRX

Clinical Research Assistant Kevin Jackson uses AlgometRx Platform Technology on Sarah Taylor’s eyes to measure her degree of pain. Children’s National is testing an experimental device that aims to measure pain according to how pupils react to certain stimuli. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Pediatric anesthesiologist Julia C. Finkel, M.D., of Children’s National Health System, gazed into the eyes of a newborn patient determined to find a better way to measure the effectiveness of pain treatment on one so tiny and unable to verbalize. Then she realized the answer was staring back at her.

Armed with the knowledge that pain and analgesic drugs produce an involuntary response from the pupil, Dr. Finkel developed AlgometRx, a first-of-its-kind handheld device that measures a patient’s pupillary response and, using proprietary algorithms, provides a diagnostic measurement of pain intensity, pain type and, after treatment is administered, monitors efficacy. Her initial goal was to improve the care of premature infants. She now has a device that can be used with children of any age and adults.

“Pain is very complex and it is currently the only vital sign that is not objectively measured,” says Dr. Finkel, who has more than 25 years of experience as a pain specialist. “The systematic problem we are facing today is that healthcare providers prescribe pain medicine based on subjective self-reporting, which can often be inaccurate, rather than based on an objective measure of pain type and intensity.” To illustrate her point, Dr. Finkel continues, “A clinician would never prescribe blood pressure medicine without first taking a patient’s blood pressure.”

The current standard of care for measuring pain is the 0-to-10 pain scale, which is based on subjective, observational and self-reporting techniques. Patients indicate their level of pain, with zero being no pain and ten being highest or most severe pain. This subjective system increases the likelihood of inaccuracy, with the problem being most acute with pediatric and non-verbal patients. Moreover, Dr. Finkel points out that subjective pain scores cannot be standardized, heightening the potential for misdiagnosis, over-treatment or under-treatment.

Dr. Finkel, who serves as director of Research and Development for Pain Medicine at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, says that a key step in addressing the opioid crisis is providing physicians with objective, real-time data on a patient’s pain level and type, to safely prescribe the right drug and dosage or an alternate treatment.,

She notes that opioids are prescribed for patients who report high pain scores and are sometimes prescribed in cases where they are not appropriate. Dr. Finkel points to the example of sciatica, a neuropathic pain sensation felt in the lower back, legs and buttocks. Sciatica pain is carried by touch fibers that do not have opioid receptors, which makes opioids an inappropriate choice for treating that type of pain.

A pain biomarker could rapidly advance both clinical practice and pain research, Dr. Finkel adds. For clinicians, the power to identify the type and magnitude of a patient’s nociception (detection of pain stimuli) would provide a much-needed scientific foundation for approaching pain treatment. Nociception could be monitored through the course of treatment so that dosing is targeted and personalized to ensure patients receive adequate pain relief while reducing side effects.

“A validated measure to show whether or not an opioid is indicated for a given patient could ease the health care system’s transition from overreliance on opioids to a more comprehensive and less harmful approach to pain management,” says Dr. Finkel.

She also notes that objective pain measurement can provide much needed help in validating complementary approaches to pain management, such as acupuncture, physical therapy, virtual reality and other non-pharmacological interventions.

Dr. Finkel’s technology, called AlgometRx, has been selected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to participate in its “Innovation Challenge: Devices to Prevent and Treat Opioid Use Disorder.” She is also the recipient of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.