New Haven, Conn.: The Yale startup Eli Nutrition, Inc., maker of a new antacid called Tummyzen, is the first recipient of a $100,000 investment from the YEI Innovation Fund. The fund was launched in September 2013 by Yale University, Connecticut Innovations and First Niagara Bank to deliver much needed early-stage funding to the most promising startups emerging from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. “We are thrilled that Eli Nutrition was chosen for investment from the YEI Innovation Fund,” says Erika Smith, Deputy Director of YEI. “They have a unique product backed by Yale science that shows tremendous promise for treating acid reflux.”
The startup was born from Yale’s Technology Commercialization Program, which is jointly run by YEI and the Yale Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) and matches promising faculty research with enterprising business school students at the Yale School of Management. Dr. John Geibel, Vice Chair of Surgery, Director of Surgical Research and professor of surgery (gastrointestinal) and professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Yale, pioneered the research. Dr. Geibel was paired with Hasan Ansari (SOM ’14) through the program, a serial entrepreneur with a decade of professional experience in product commercialization, product planning and strategy consulting. This combination of scientific innovation and entrepreneurial acumen provided the genesis of the Tummyzen product.
The Zinc Discovery
Dr. Geibel had been searching for years for a new way to treat acid reflux disease, a condition which impacts more than 50 million Americans. Recent research suggests than both over-the-counter antacids and stronger prescription drugs provide only limited relief, and may come with significant risks. “60 percent of patients with acid reflux get their symptoms back,” Dr. Geibel says.
Traditional drugs to treat acid reflux are proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, and they have a host of side effects that include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and weakened bones. Studies suggest that PPIs can also prevent cholesterol-lowering drugs from working. On the other hand, current over-the-counter antacids act as buffers, but don’t get to the root of the problem. These products work by temporarily raising the body’s pH level—adding a “base” to neutralize the acid. Dr.Geibel notes that the body, in turn, will produce more acid to compensate. That’s good for the makers of the antacids, but not for acid reflux sufferers. “Our therapy stops acid at the source,” Dr.Geibel says, “down at the glands.”
What Dr.Geibel discovered was that zinc –an ion that’s important for all cell function—suppresses chloride from leaving cells and stops acid secretion in the stomach—without any side effects and while providing increased health benefits. Multiple animal and human studies have since confirmed that the zinc-based approach is extremely effective for treating acid reflux—acting just as fast as over-the-counter antacids but lasting for four to five hours as opposed to 30 minutes of relief observed for traditional antacids. In addition, patients benefitted from zinc’s wound-healing properties. “If you had an active erosion in the esophagus, this could aid in the repair process in addition to balancing the acid levels to provide heartburn relief,” Dr. Geibel says. This research has been published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology and has patents in the U.S and internationally.
Dr. Geibel’s discovery of a new treatment for acid reflux struck a personal chord with Ansari. Ansari had suffered from heartburn for years and had not found relief from antacids and prescription medications. Working with experts at YEI and OCR, Ansari pulled together a team of Yale students: Fanni Li (SOM ’14), who has a background in healthcare, operations and consulting; Yulia Khvan (SOM ’14), a lawyer working on her MBA; Srikar Prasad (SOM ’14), a serial entrepreneur with healthcare experience; and Faisal Hamid (YC ’13), who is developing Tummyzen’s online presence. This team, with mentorship and support from leading business experts and healthcare professionals, formed Eli Nutrition—a company founded on the premise that dietary supplements can be created based on rigorous and thorough scientific research and trials in order to provide Americans with better options to manage their wellbeing.
Eli Nutrition worked with Dr. Geibel on crafting a new dietary supplement based on his proprietary zinc formula. In addition to zinc and calcium, Tummyzen also utilizes barley grass—a homeopathic stomach-soothing treatment.
“Our belief is that many people taking harsh medications can manage heartburn much more safely through a dietary supplement,” Ansari says. “Our goal is to bring scientifically proven safe and natural remedies to the market.” In the future, the team plans to develop formulations for colicky babies and pregnant women along with supplements aimed at other digestive conditions.
New Funding, New Possibilities
Eli Nutrition developed Tummyzen—including the formula, manufacture, logo and packaging—during a 2013 YEI Summer Fellowship. They were one of 10 teams that received $20,000 to develop and launch their product, meeting with mentors, pitching to investors, building interest among potential customers and developing their prototype. Additionally, the company received a $12,000 entrepreneurial grant from the Yale School of Management, and an Innovation Voucher grant from the State of Connecticut. That support allowed the startup to launch their product in the local community.
“The $100,000 enables us to start the process of more extensive marketing and sales and to produce a larger batch,” Ansari says. “It’s also a vote of confidence in the company and a signal to other investors.”
They plan to launch an online marketing campaign, to order their first full production batch of 10,000 bottles, to begin selling online and to continue reaching out to Connecticut pharmacies and stores and retailers outside the state. Amazon is currently the startup’s primary sales channel.
“People are eager for new solutions,” Ansari says. “Heartburn sufferers have been searching for a solution for a very long time. We are proud and excited to offer an innovative new solution that works in minutes and offers relief that lasts for hours. We are on our way to changing how America manages its heartburn.”
CONTACT: Brita Belli, YEI Communications Officer, email@example.com; (203)436-4933