San Antonio — Researchers, advocates, and residents in San Antonio have been seeking out ways to handle the growing problem of diabetes in San Antonio and the surrounding Bexar County, which saw the rate of adults with the condition increase to 14.2 percent in 2014 from 11.4 percent two years earlier. Both are higher than the state and national averages.
Everything from experimental drugs to medical devices are being developed in town, including at startups like Syner-III and EO2 Concepts and at more established businesses, such as wound-care company Acelity. Advocacy group BioMed SA identified diabetes research as one of a couple of key topics the city and its institutions should focus on to bolster the city’s life sciences industry. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, for example, tries to support preclinical work by the scientists who work there, both with early stage funding and later-stage commercialization projects.
MR3Health is one newer startup in San Antonio working to address one part of the condition. MR3 has a device that measures the temperature of a diabetes patient’s feet in a few select spots in order to track whether the patient might be at risk of developing ulcers that can get infected.
MR3’s technology aims to note whether there is a four-degree change in temperature in the foot during a two-day period—an indication of inflammation that may mean a wound has developed or is developing, which the patient might not feel, according to Kris Knopf, an executive vice president at MR3. If that happens, the company’s connected app (it has both Android and iOS versions) will alert the patient’s healthcare provider, who can work with the patient on treating the potential wound, says Knopf. Knopf himself has diabetes and says he believes the one-minute time period it takes to measure the foot temperatures will help with patient adoption.
MR3 hopes that by monitoring the temperature of the feet every day with its tool, which can connect via Bluetooth to the smartphone app, it can help prevent patients from needing an amputation. Diabetes, an autoimmune disease, often impacts the blood flow to patient’s lower body, which can cause nerve damage there, leaving feet or other body parts without feeling and vulnerable to untreated cuts or ulcers, according to the American Diabetes Association. About 108,000 people with diabetes had amputations of their lower extremities in 2014, the association says.
“Up to 50 percent of people who have a foot amputation have a fatal outcome within two years,” Knopf says. “It’s up to 80 percent within 5 years, after their first amputation.”
MR3 isn’t trying to sell it as a medical device, however, instead hoping to license it as a part of a service it will offer to insurers of patients with diabetes. If the insurer approves it, the patient will receive the device and can download the app, and then will need to return the device if they go off the service, says president Stan Marett.
It’s still early for MR3. The company is currently seeking “a couple million” to bring the device to market, having raised about $750,000 from angel investors so far, including $25,000 earlier this month, according to Marett and securities filings. Its executives say they are talking to payers throughout the country, and have deployed about 40 devices to groups in Texas cities that include Dallas and Corpus Christi.
Most of the work around infected ulcers and cuts is focused on treatment, such as wound care products made by companies like Acelity or EO2, according to David Neathery, another MR3 executive. Companies like Siren and Podimetrics make socks and wireless mats that aim to track foot temperatures, similar to MR3, while an app called FootSnap aims monitors any changes to the feet using photos. In one 18-month clinical trial of 225 people, patients who used MR3’s device were found to be one-third as likely to get an ulcer as those who received standard care (such as education, therapeutic footwear, and visual foot exams), according to findings published in 2015 in the American Journal of Medicine.
MR3’s technology has been around for some time. It received 510(k) approval from the FDA in 2008 to be sold under prescription use or as an over-the-counter product, when it was owned by San Antonio business Diabetica Solutions. MR3 acquired Diabetica after forming in 2015, and began developing the software component of the business. (MR3 outsourced development of the software to Austin-based ConnectTel, Marett says.)
Now, the company is hoping is hoping the data it has collected on its device will help convince insurers that finding ulcers early will limit amputations and, subsequently, reduce healthcare costs. “We’re able now with confidence to go to the market and tell these health plans about quantifying their savings,” Marett says.