May 17, 2018; Updated June 6, 2019
Developed for Treating Veterans and Active Military, New Platform Can be Adapted to Wider Market
Anne Germain is convinced from the results of her research with active military and veterans that behavioral therapy can help people with sleep disorders improve the quality of their sleep, and as a result, the quality of their lives.
The benefits to this are obvious for active duty servicemen and women to be refreshed and alert when conducting their daily duties, particularly when in combat situations. But the potential applications extend to anyone suffering from poor sleep and the resulting health problems and lost productivity that can be traced back to sleep deficiency. Germain has also found a link between poor sleep and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans, so improving sleep could help manage that condition as well.
But making therapy accessible and affordable is an issue to its wider adoption.
Germain, associate professor of psychiatry, and director of the Military Sleep Tactics and Resilience Research Team, said that she was wrestling with this problem when she encountered the mobile health platforms from the lab of Bambang Parmanto, professor of Health Information Management at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. He is the director of the Rehab Engineering Research Center on Information & Communication Technology Access, which develops mobile health applications for people with chronic disabilities. Over the past four years they have collaborated to build a mobile app, Noctem, that can connect patients to therapists to allow real-time assessment, monitoring, and treatment via secure messages.
Germain said that from her first contact with the Innovation Institute licensing manager Carolyn Weber, upon filing her invention disclosure, the Innovation Institute has been by her side to provide support and guidance.
Germain said that several outside companies expressed interest in the Noctem technology, but negotiations did not result in a license.
“In the end that was a good thing. It forced us to consider if we can take the technology out (of the University) ourselves,” she said. “The company is a conduit to change sleep healthcare. If anybody deserves a good night sleep, it’s veterans and those who serve. The way to make that impact quickly is to commercialize.”
The support from the Innovation Institute extended to assisting with navigating the Conflict of Interest process that is becoming more common at Pitt as more faculty are choosing to be involved in startups based on their research. This has continued since the license agreement, she said.
“The people at the Innovation Institute are all generous with their time, skills, expertise, and experience to help take the idea to the next step.”
She said that even after signing the license agreement, she regularly consults with the Institute’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) to gain insight into the commercialization process.
“I’m hoping they never send me a bill,” she joked.
Weber said that working as the licensing manager for Germain and Parmanto has been a pleasure.
“I have been involved with these innovators, Anne and Bambang, for several years now through this and other inventions disclosures submitted to our office,” she said. “They have both been extremely involved and attentive to the entire process which helps our office to be so successful in getting these interesting and novel technologies out into the world.”
Next steps for Germain now that she is officially holding the reins of her own company is continuing to test the product with its initial customers. Her first contract is with a provider of health services to the military in San Diego. She is targeting other health care provider organizations.
In June 2019, Noctem was awarded $2 million by the Medical Technology Consortium Enterprise (MTEC) to pilot a novel telehealth platfrom treating the unmet sleep healthcare needs of Service Members, such as insomnia, nightmares, and other sleep disturbances.
She is also seeking to raise capital in order to build out a team.
It’s all enough to keep somebody awake at night.