Like many medications, naloxone — the nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose — comes in a flimsy box. The device that administers the medication is shaped like a cartoon spaceship and has to remain sealed in blister pack until use. It’s clunky to carry and can be sprayed accidentally.
With a new device that began as a class project, Western Washington University alum Brendan Mudd wants to put the life-saving medication into more hands by making it easier to carry around and conceal.
Mudd spent the four months since graduation finalizing its design and is now seeking Food and Drug Administration approval — a process that could take several years, he said.
Mudd’s device, called Nove (which rhymes with “grove” and is meant to sound like a shortening of “no overdose”) looks like a small, sleek Greek column. A piece of cord loops off one end, making it easy to secure to a key ring. Gone is the blister pack; the device itself protects the medicine from accidental discharge. Users need only to pull the ends apart to access the nasal spray inside.
Mudd began developing his product during his junior year, when one of his instructors tasked his industrial design class with creating a product for first responders.
“I looked around the Bellingham community and the Seattle area, and it’s impossible not to see the effects of the opioid epidemic when you walk around any major city,” Mudd said.
Six times as many people in the U.S. died from a drug overdose in 2021 than they did in 1999, and nearly 75% of those deaths involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reports that Washington state experienced a 22% increase in the number of overdose deaths from 2021 to 2022, which ties Wyoming for the biggest percentage increase over that period.
Dr. Greg Thompson, a co-health officer for Whatcom County, told the county council in June that local drug overdoses more than doubled last year, from 44 in 2021 to at least 90 in 2022.
“I went to some of the communities that are most affected by the epidemic, and basically what I learned is that people don't really want to carry naloxone on them because they don't want to be stigmatized for being a drug user, which in most cases is not even why they're carrying [it]. They’re often looking out for a friend or family member,” Mudd said.
Brendan Mudd stands in downtown Bellingham Oct. 19. Mudd is working to receive FDA approval for a naloxone device. He said he got inspiration for designing the product while walking through downtown Bellingham. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Mudd also asked his college peers about why they opted against carrying the medication. Many said the box was hard to pocket, and that they didn’t want to bring bulky bags with them to parties or music festivals.
To address these obstacles, Mudd looked for ways to make his product as discrete and portable as possible.
“The form is very function driven. Ergonomically, it is the same as an existing device, but it’s just made in a much more minimal fashion that looks kind of like an abstract sculpture, almost like a little art piece on your keychain,” Mudd said.
Mudd used his senior project as an opportunity to keep working on Nove. To help market and fund its development, he partnered with Charlie Brizz, a young entrepreneur whom Mudd met while visiting a childhood friend at the University of Indiana, Bloomington.
“Brendan told me about the idea he was working on, which would eventually become Nove, and I was like, ‘That's so cool, like I love it.’ So I reached out to Brendan and said, ‘Hey man, let me help in any possible way.’ And that kind of just progressed into an eventual partnership where we were working on it together,” Brizz said.
As a team, Mudd and Brizz won the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s 2023 Clapp IDEA Competition at the University of Indiana, which came with a cash prize of $25,000. They used the money to finalize certain technical aspects of Nove’s design. Now, they are seeking additional funding from government grants and private investors to finish developing the atomizer — the portion of the device that turns the liquid naloxone into an inhalable mist — and, crucially, to gain approval from the FDA.
Brizz currently sees working with an existing pharmaceutical company as Nove’s best option for pursuing FDA approval. Since the FDA has already scrutinized those companies’ supply chains, only Nove’s proprietary elements would necessitate review, he said.
However, until the path to FDA approval becomes clearer, the founders are seeking letters of interest from local and state governments, which they hope will eventually purchase and freely distribute their product just as they currently do for Nove’s main competitor, Narcan.
“It's an exciting thing,” Brizz said. “They want to see it come to the market. Those letters of interest are incredibly important as a foundation for building ourselves to appear as more than we are, in a sense, right? Because we are 22 years old and trying to tackle a very large and difficult problem.”
Whether a pharmaceutical company partners with Nove or not, Brizz said he and Mudd are determined to bring the product to market.
“I just see the power of what it can be at scale. If you're overdosing, it's one of the few times when you're facing a death that can be reversed,” Brizz said. “The big thing we always say at the end of every single meeting is, ‘Let's save lives.’”