launching in HOU

Digital pharmacy launches in Houston to address access with same-day delivery

A new pharmacy startup has officially launched in Houston. Photo courtesy of Capsule

A health tech company has officially launched locally to serve as a digital pharmacy platform. The company is aiming to simplify the process for customers.

Capsule has launched in Houston to address access-challenged pharmacy deserts as well as allow for discreet delivery of frequently stigmatized medications. The company also prioritizes better communications than standard pharmacy service.

"Capsule's mission has always been to build a pharmacy that works for everyone," says Eric Kinariwala, founder and CEO of Capsule, in a news release. "We believe that the core pharmacy experience is fundamentally broken for the hundreds of millions of Americans who take medication regularly, so we set out to rebuild that experience from the inside out."

Capsule's custom software prevents common issues out-of-stock medications, long wait times, and lack of price transparency, as well as improves communications. Customers can sign up for the service — which includes same-day delivery within all of Harris County and parts of Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, and Montgomery counties — and have their physician send their prescriptions to Capsule. The company accepts all major insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid.

One problem that Capsule is attempting to solve is access to pharmaceuticals. According to the release, half of prescriptions in America go unfilled resulting in $300 billion in additional healthcare costs. One factor contributing to this problem is access.

"We know that there is a direct link between proximity to a pharmacy and prescription fill rates," Kinariwala says. "And the consequences of failing to fill vital prescriptions can be dire. Capsule is a part of the solution."

In Houston, pharmacy deserts disproportionately affect minorities. Over 40 percent of Hispanic residents and 70 percent of Black residents live a mile or more away from a pharmacy. According to USA Rx data, Harris County has 1.39 pharmacies per 10,000 residents, which is below the national average of 2.4.

"Capsule's long-term ambition is to create a hub where consumers can access all of their healthcare needs in a single, simple, holistic place," says Kinariwala. "We're doing that in a way that brings together everybody in healthcare versus trying to own all of those things ourselves. Just like you buy a cell phone and choose apps, people will be able to access Capsule's digital pharmacy, as well as a best-in-class curated set of products and services to meet all of their healthcare needs from within a single app."

Eric Kinariwala is the founder and CEO of Capsule. Photo courtesy of Capsule

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Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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