WWU graduate Brendan Mudd still carries around his favorite industrial design assignment – and soon, he hopes, others will, too.
The simple, stylish white case that dangles from his keychain looks like it could hold something mundane, like earbuds. But its real purpose is for saving lives, and Mudd has turned the junior-year project into a quest to launch a new startup to get the device on as many keychains as possible.
He calls the device Nove (which rhymes with “cove”), and the sleek design is a case for a single dose of naloxone — an inhalable medication that helps reverse the effects of opioids.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means the medication can attach to the opioid receptors in our bodies, reversing the symptoms and blocking any further opioids from reaching the receptors -- in effect stopping a potentially deadly overdose in its tracks.
Since graduating in June from Western’s Industrial Design program, Mudd has been focused on turning Nove into a marketable product for distribution. The FDA approved inhalable naloxone for over-the-counter sales this year, making the medication available without a prescription to anyone who wants to keep it on hand. Mudd and his business partner are pursuing FDA approval for Nove in hopes that creating an easy, portable delivery device will encourage more people to carry the lifesaving drug with them all the time – like their keys.
The idea began in spring ’22, when Professor Arūnas Ošlapas gave the class of 12 students an assignment to “design a device that would improve the lives of the Bellingham community.” Each student went out into the city and looked for inspiration.
“I was doing a bunch of research, looking at where I could take the project,” Mudd says. “And walking around downtown Bellingham — and really anywhere in Seattle or most big cities — it's hard to not see the effects of the opioid epidemic.”
According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 109,680 people died in the United States from overdoses in 2022, and that while the number of deaths nationwide remained almost steady compared with 2021, deaths in Washington state grew 22 percent – the highest percentage increase in the country.
Ošlapas gave Mudd’s project an immediate green light.
“I’ve always felt that as an industrial designer, any product that saves lives is a worthy pursuit,” he says.
Over the following year and through more than 100 iterations, Mudd refined his concept into a product that was beyond the scope of the classroom, and he was ready to look for investments to turn it into a marketable business.
It is not every day that a class project turns into a product for the market, says Ošlapas, who has taught industrial design at Western for 32 years.
“Most of the projects are too complicated and would take years to bring to market,” Ošlapas says.
Mudd’s senior year was focused on preparing to bring Nove to market. He learned how to source Naloxone and how to get investments, and finished the mechanics of his design. He also paired up with a friend from his home state of Indiana, Charlie Brizz, who became the co-founder of the business and handles the marketing and funding for Nove.
Together they won the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s 2023 Clapp IDEA Competition at the University of Indiana, earning a prize of $25,000. Mudd said they are using this prize money to develop the product and materials, but he hopes to secure around $50,000 more to get Nove across the finish line.
But the design is already getting attention. Mudd is the third WWU industrial design student in history to win the Industrial Design Society of America’s Student Merit Award.
“I love industrial design,” Mudd says. “I love designing products, and I love the startup atmosphere and helping other people have ideas and developing them to a point where they can actually be put to market.”
Mudd added that a big reason his friend Brizz was interested in working on Nove was due to the friends Brizz had lost — losses that could have been avoided if naloxone had been readily available.
Western’s Chief of Police Katy Potts was excited to hear about Nove.
“I like the idea that it’s on a keychain, because I'm just trying to think of something somebody carries normally all the time,” Potts says.
She said that the current packaging for naloxone can be cumbersome, and that a single dose isn’t always enough. But if it became something more people carry, it could save more lives.
“You don't have to get trained in it to use it and that's what makes it so great and easy,” Potts says. “It's not going to hurt you if you don't need it, it's only going to help. I think it's great that Brendan is looking for a way for people to always have it easily accessible — right now it's available, but it's not always easily accessible. I think that is key and it's going to help, I think in the end it'll help save lives.”
Mudd and Brizz want to make Nove available to the masses -- and affordable enough that anyone can purchase one and carry it around with them. They’re working on getting FDA approval for the device and hope to license it to be packaged with naloxone as soon as winter of 2024.
As the sun glinted across the rooftops of south campus on a beautiful summer day in Bellingham recently, Mudd reflected on all the reasons he was driven to see Nove become a reality.
“I've heard the stories of friends passing away, overdosing on drugs that contain fentanyl -- and they weren't supposed to,” Mudd said. “So obviously, this could happen in my community, and preventing that kind of impact on others is what is really behind Nove.”