Twin Cities doctor tries to get cheap EpiPen alternative to market

The AllergyStop, the bullet-shaped object in the upper right, is much smaller than a normal EpiPen.

The AllergyStop, the bullet-shaped object in the upper right, is much smaller than a normal EpiPen.

Douglas McMahon's not just a doctor turned would-be entrepreneuer.

He's also his first and only client. 

McMahon has had an allergy to tree nuts -- walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, to name a few -- since birth, and remembers carrying around an EpiPen as a kid. The injection device for administering epinephrine, a lifesaver for an allergic person going into shock, was kind of a pain in the ass to have on hand.

"The device was very big, and bulky," says McMahon, who attened St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. "It's cumbersome." 

McMahon spent "years" trying to come up with a smaller alternative, dreaming up prototypes as he prepared for his own medical career. He's increased that dedication in the last couple years, since starting in private practice as an allergist in Eagan. 

When he's not with patients, he's working on his prototype, which he describes as two inches long by one inch wide, small enough to fit on a patient's keychain. His intense desire to get a small, cheap epinipherine delivery system to market has only picked up in the past couple months. 

That's because Mylan, the company that owns a patent for the most common EpiPen delivery system, had increased the price of a two-pen set from $60 to $600, knowing it had the market cornered. To be clear, Mylan doesn't claim rights to epinephrine. (The drug itself has been around since 1901.) It's the delivery method -- especially, the New York Times notes, "the safety cap on the needle" (!) -- that's under patent protection.

If McMahon could get his cheap little alternative, which he's called the AllergyStop, to market, he could sell his alternative EpiPen for $50 a pop and cut the monopolists at Mylan off at the knee.

McMahon's confident enough in his product that he's carrying it around, and is counting on it to save his life if exposure to something sent him into shock.  The Food and Drug Administration's not convinced yet.

McMahon says he gets an email from the FDA informing him of a new test or regulatory hurdle "almost every day." He's attempted to raise money through an Indiegogo campaign, but the fundraiser's suffering from anemia: With about a month left on the clock, AllergyStop has received less than $10,000 out of an initial $200,000 goal. Should that fall short, he'd have to pursue other avenues. (Fortune Magazine suggests involving outside investors could make McMahon raise prices depending on market forces.) 

At the same time, McMahon's taking meetings with contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs), the companies that would actually mass-produce the AllergyStop should it receive approval. 

He hears from patients complaining of the EpiPen price "all the time," and some with bad insurance have been forced to go without it. Even without a worst case scenario allergy attack, severe allergy sufferers are walking around on high alert, high-stress all day, thinking they might go into shock any time they enter a park or a restaurant. 

"Basically, we're telling the population, this is a real issue out there," McMahon says. "And we can make a difference if we get this product off the ground."