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UW student reinvents eye dropper to ‘stick it to drug companies’

Eye droppers may seem like an innocuous, uncontroversial item commonly used by just about everyone. But they ended up making one University of Washington student quite frustrated. So much so that she endeavored to re-invent the eye dropper to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry — with the Nanodropper.

The problem, as Allisa Song found out, is that pharmaceutical companies design eye droppers so they dispense too much liquid. The downside of this is that it drips down your face. The upside, for drug companies, is that you run out of drops much faster. ProPublica reports that this adds up to hefty profits for drug companies who are aware of the wasteful design flaw, despite low-income patients needing the medication. Song was not pleased when she read the article.

“It was mostly anger that there are patients out there who cannot afford their medication and there had to be a solution,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “I was mostly outraged.”

More specifically, she is quoted in a Propublica followup story saying “How do I stick it to the drug companies that are trying to screw over the patients?”

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Take one patient, for example, that Song encountered while inventing the Nanodropper.

“There’s this woman, she’s a widow, and she was talking about how it is difficult for her to keep her house and her biggest cost is her glaucoma medication,” Song said. “We don’t want patients to have to make that choice: ‘Am I going to pay rent or am I going to pay for my meds?’”

The Nanodropper

The Nanodropper, an attachment for most eye droppers, will dispense smaller, more accurate doses.

“When you take off the cap of an eye dropper bottle, that cap is attached by a thread, so our base threads onto that,” Song said. “So you only have to put it on once and it comes with its own cap.”

See a demonstration of the Nanodropper here.

Song says it can save patients about $2,500 annually, just by simply delivering the correct dose of medication. She’s looking for investors, but plans to eventually sell the Nanodropper for around $12.99. That price could change, but the goal is to make it as cheap for patients as possible.

Song, who recently graduated UW and plans to attend the Mayo Clinic, has approached the endeavor from a novel perspective — the customer. But that doesn’t mean that drug companies will be eager to invest after profiting so much off of the old eye droppers. That’s not the point, she says.

“Yes, the drug companies might be selling less bottles per patient — that’s the hope at least — but at the same time we are making this medication more affordable for people who normally wouldn’t be able to regularly buy bottles,” Song said. “We haven’t done a cost analysis yet, but we are hoping that it might not change the number of bottles sold to the drug companies themselves.”

“I feel that’s why our health care system is so messed up because it’s supposed to be about the patient, but because it’s a profit-driven system, there is this balancing act you have to do,” she said. “Hopefully, my approach will be beneficial to the patients — patient centered design and care … I feel like there has to be some place where the two can both exist (profit and patient care). The reason I chose (to study) at the Mayo Clinic is because they do a really good job doing that. So I want to see how that model works.”

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