Moyo Medical: the Chapel Hill startup working to make pregnancy safer across the globe
Launch Chapel Hill company Moyo Medical is developing an at-home test for preeclampsia, the second leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide.
What began as a class project in a biomedical engineering course at Duke University is now a startup working to save the lives of pregnant women at risk of developing preeclampsia.
Former Duke Master’s students Denali Dahl, Zoe Sekyonda, Brian Matovu and Elizabeth Thithi Ndichu are the founders of Moyo Medical, one of the startups in Launch Chapel Hill’s newest cohort. Their current project is the development and testing of a prototype of a home-based test for preeclampsia that would improve maternal health outcomes.
“Brian and Zoe were able to talk to a physician in Uganda who mentioned that his biggest concern around preeclampsia was that women weren’t getting to the clinic early enough in the disease progression,” Dahl said. “So, from that, we decided to focus on a home-based early detection mechanism so women know when to seek care.”
Brian Matovu (front) and Zoe Sekyonda are two of the founders of Moyo Medical. Photo courtesy of Denali Dahl.
Denali Dahl (left) and Elizabeth Ndichu, the other two founders of Moyo Medical. Photo courtesy of Denali Dahl.
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that can be managed if caught early and diagnosed. But if left undiagnosed, preeclampsia can become eclampsia, a pregnancy-induced high blood pressure that can cause seizures, organ damage and death.
The disease most often goes undetected in low-to-middle-income countries, where access to a hospital or clinic isn’t always available. Providing those women with at-home early detection tests could save their lives.
“If women aren’t attending regular prenatal care visits, then they don’t know that they’re developing the condition,” Dahl said. “We decided to focus on a home-based early detection mechanism so women know when to seek care before the complication becomes super severe.”
Their prototype is called an EPED (early preeclampsia detection) strip. The strip and the instructions would be given to the pregnant woman during one of her prenatal visits. She can then test herself for the complication at home instead of having to make a trip to the hospital or the clinic.
An example of an EPED strip prototype. Photo courtesy of Denali Dahl.
Evolution of Moyo Medical
Moyo Medical began in a biomedical engineering course at Duke University. Three of the founders were put together on a team for a group assignment to come up with a plan to create and test a device related to biomedical engineering. Upon completion of the course, they decided to try to make their class project a reality.
In September 2016, the founders got permission to study and plan the prototype, and they secured funding in April 2017. The company is still in the early stages of prototype development and is currently conducting a clinical study in Uganda, where founding members Matovu and Sekyonda attended university. The study will gather background data about the people in Sub-Saharan Africa to inform the development of the EPED strip.
“We realized that entrepreneurship is one of the quickest ways to translate technology from research to having an impact,” Dahl said. “We started delving into what the world of business is and how we can combine entrepreneurship and engineering to solve a global health challenge.”
The current focus on the company is creating the EPED strip prototype, but Ndichu says they also have a broader focus as well.
“Our number one goal is to help with maternal health outcomes,” Ndichu said.“But the longer-term goal is to empower women and help them to achieve the best that they can in their life.”
Moyo Medical and Launch Chapel Hill
Being a part of Launch Chapel Hill’s accelerator program has helped Dahl and the other founders understand how use their abilities as biomedical engineers to achieve both their short-term goal of developing and selling the early-detection test and their long-term goal of empowering women.
“One of the things I like best about Launch is that it helps provide some structure,” Dahl said. “When we have these 10,000 different puzzle pieces it helps us actually put them together in a way that can move the company forward.”
Dahl and the other founders hope to produce the strips by the end of this year so they can begin working on selling the product to pregnant women in developed countries and reducing the number of maternal deaths related to eclampsia complications.
“We’re starting as a for-profit, but ideally the goal would be a hybrid structure, and so the for-profit arm could sell the strips in the U.S. and other high-research settings, and that could help support this nonprofit arm that could subsidize the cost of the strip or make sure that women, regardless of their ability to pay, can access the strip,” Dahl said. “I think in that way, business is sort of a tool to help develop a product to achieve this global health goal.”