Giancarlo Beukes, H’21
Developing affordable, lifesaving healthcare technologies for Africa
Giancarlo Beukes H’21 is based in Cape Town, South Africa and has a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Cape Town.
In collaboration with Dr Sudesh Sivarasu, a senior lecturer at UCT and Associate Professor Michael Levin, who heads up the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at UCT, Beukes worked with fellow co-founder, Gokul Nair H’22, to investigate solutions to three critical issues. Firstly, people with severe allergies (anaphylaxis) always need to have a device to treat anaphylactic shock on hand, but existing devices are too expensive. Secondly, children must be able to use their inhalers when no one is around to help them and thirdly, both devices must be affordable and accessible to anyone who needs them. Beukes and Nair took up the challenge and co-founded Impulse Biomedical in 2017 to create a multi-medica devices company with a global footprint that would increase the current market size by at least 30% by making their products affordable.
“We want to ensure that people living in Africa are able to afford lifesaving healthcare technologies, regardless of their income.”
Rethinking medical devices for the benefit of those who need it most
THE CHALLENGE: Patients with severe allergies/anaphylaxis are unable to afford adrenaline auto-injectors, such as the EpiPen, which costs around $120 (R1 800) in South Africa. This device doesn’t sufficiently cater to differences in patient size and weight, as it only offers one device for adults and one for children, it is not reloadable and expires after 12 months. Pediatric asthma patients are often unable to activate their inhalers in emergencies, inhalers don’t have dosage counters, so you don’t know when the inhaler is about to run out and many patients experience stigma when using them. The current adrenaline auto-injector market is worth approximately U$2.7 billion and is set to grow to $6 billion by 2026. The global inhaler market is valued at approximately U$33 billion growing to U$47 billion by 2027.
THE PROCESS: The team partnered with Professor Levin, Head of the Allergy Foundation of South Africa and Professor Sudesh Sivarasu, Head of the Medical Devices Laboratory at the University of Cape Town. Together, they analyzed market research reports and academic journal articles to validate their technologies as well as evaluate their competitors. They conducted in-person interviews with doctors, pharmacists, and patients to further understand the needs of patients. The team designed and developed the ZiBiPen, a reloadable adrenaline auto-injector for anaphylaxis. When the medication in the injector expires, the patient simply reloads their ZiBiPen with a fresh adrenaline cartridge instead of disposing of the entire device, making treatment up to 64% more affordable. A range of cartridges will be made available with different needle lengths to better cater to patient needs. The device has a more intuitive design than its competitors and its one step injection makes emergency use far easier. For asthma, they developed an affordable, reusable sleeve attachment for metered dose inhalers that reduces the activation force of a standard inhaler from 40N (4kg of force) to 8N (0.8 kg of force), called the Easy Squeezy. The device also features a resettable dosage counter and animated characters to combat the stigma faced by children.
THE RESULTS: The company developed a functional prototype of the ZiBiPen that was tested against the market leader by injecting the device into porcine blocks and examining injection depth, tissue compression, etc. The prototype was optimized for manufacturability with molds manufactured for the first round of engineering tests. The company has recently obtained their license to manufacture medical devices by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority and will be commencing with clinical trials in 2022. They have received their first round of Easy Squeezy production samples, which are currently being used for clinical studies, and will be optimizing the product to include user feedback with a view to selling their first batch by Q3 2022. They have been granted a patent in the UK for the ZiBiPen and granted a patent in various European countries as well as the US for Easy Squeezy.
LEARN MORE ABOUT IMPULSE BIOMEDICAL
We develop affordable, lifesaving healthcare technologies including the ZiBiPen reloadable adrenaline auto-injector and Easy Squeezy inhaler attachment.
Passionate about finding real world solutions to real world problems
ABOUT GIANCARLO BEUKES
Beukes has a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Pretoria as well as a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Cape Town. Beukes’ first job was for a top tier civil engineering consulting firm. After 3 days, Beukes handed in his resignation. He realized while designing an air-conditioning system for a shopping mall that he wanted to make an impact in the world by developing medical devices that could save lives. He subsequently pursued a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. His decision to leave a high-paying job led Beukes to co-found Impulse Biomedical in 2017.
The start-up has a string of awards and recognitions to its name including more recently 1st place at the Swiss South Africa Venture Leaders Competition in 2019 as well as 1st place for the Easy Squeezy technology, runner up for the ZiBiPen technology and most promising youth-led team in medical devices for the Easy Squeezy technology at the Technology Innovation Agency’s (TIA) Global Cleantech Innovation Program 2019. They also won 2nd place (only non-US company in the top 6) at the Mili Valuation Competition held at the Design of Medical Devices Conference hosted by the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis USA in 2018 and in the same year achieved 1st place at the Merck Pharmaceuticals Accelerator pitch competition for their ZiBiPen technology. Impulse Biomedical is also the first pre-revenue start-up to receive an investment from Future Growth (Old Mutual Investment Group).
I AM A HARAMBEAN
Beukes wants to connect with like-minded people who are working hard to make an impact on the continent and in the world.
“I have developed several meaningful relationships with fellow Harambeans and have learned so much from them. It is always eye opening when I attend Harambean events to see what other Harambeans are doing and achieving.”