Health app developer RightAnswer.com gets CDC grant

MIDLAND — RightAnswer.com Inc., the Midland-based health technology developer, announced that it had won a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The two-year, $999,922 grant will fund the research and development of a mobile application that offers information about the risks of medications during pregnancy.

The application, being developed in partnership with content and technology experts from the University of Washington, will help healthcare providers counsel pregnant patients who have concerns about the possible effects of prescription and over-the-counter drugs on their developing babies.

RightAnswer.com received a $150,000 grant for the Phase I exploration of the feasibility of the application in October of 2015. The company’s principals, siblings Glenn and Ellen Hallett, said the grant was a testament to the value of their application.

“The grant process becomes more involved at each stage,” said Ellen Hallett, RightAnswer.com COO and vice president for business development. “Only a portion of Phase I projects are successful in getting Phase II grants, so we think this is a testament to how valuable this application can be in supporting the CDC’s initiatives.”

Reliable information about teratogens, or substances that can cause malformations of a developing embryo, are typically only offered through subscriptions purchased by large medical institutions and academic libraries for their healthcare providers.

“Many healthcare providers don’t have ready access to this information, especially at the time when they are with their patients,” said Glen Markham, the company’s corporate business development executive and product director. “This application would be a major shift, putting teratogenic information about medications at a physician’s fingertips.”

According to CDC figures, in the past 30 years first-trimester use of prescription medications has increased more than 60 percent. Today, nine out of 10 women take at least one medication during pregnancy.

“This increased usage has high impact, both financially and emotionally,” Markham said. “Each year approximately 40,000 infants are born with birth defects directly attributed to prenatal medication exposure, and birth defects and prematurity alone cost the U.S. about $29 billion a year. This application has the potential to address a huge unmet need.”

Withholding or discontinuing medications, even those with known risks to a developing infant, is not always feasible, Markham said, because many are medically necessary.

“This application will help providers and pregnant women weigh the potential risks and benefits of medications immediately,” he said. “It will also help them consider potential alternative therapies and routes of administration.”

The mobile application is being designed to draw information from the TERIS (Teratogen Information System) database, housed at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

“This database provides up-to-date, authoritative information regarding the effects of drugs and chemicals on the developing embryo, as well as evidence-based information on the developmental toxicity of more than 1,600 agents,” Markham said. He notes that the database addresses 95 percent of the most frequently prescribed drugs.

“The University of Washington’s TERIS database is really a gold standard of teratogenic information,” says Glenn Hallett, president and chief technology officer. “It’s much better than what many healthcare providers have access to today — if they have access to an applicable database at all. We believe our unique collaboration with the University of Washington supports the CDC’s vision of delivering gold standard information with advanced technology.”

SBIR grants help U.S. small businesses complete the often-expensive research and development behind new products and technologies that support health promotion and disease prevention. This grant is funded over two years at $499,961 per year. Year-two funding is subject to the availability of funds and satisfactory progress.

More at www.rightanswer.com.

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