As a member of the fifth class of Ferolyn Fellows, Rachel had heard about the program’s ability to take her career to the next level thanks to a recommendation from Ferolyn alumna Maria Artunduaga, MD. Already she’s finding that the mentorship and collaboration have been crucial as she navigates the world of entrepreneurship as co-founder and CEO of Eysz, a startup that aims to transform epilepsy care.
Identifying a clinical need
After graduating from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Physics, Rachel earned her medical degree from the UCSF School of Medicine with residency and fellowship in pediatric neurology and epilepsy, and began practicing at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland.
Her 10 years at the hospital sparked a desire to find a better solution for epilepsy treatment, as about half of pediatric neurology involves epilepsy, one of the most common and expensive neurological disorders. Caring for children with epilepsy highlighted the management challenges. More than 99% of the seizures occur outside of the hospital and are difficult to measure. This unreliable data is then used to make treatment decisions resulting in prolonged cycles of overtreatment to undertreatment, leading to excessive costs and often negatively affecting patients’ quality of life.
“It became clear that there was a tremendous clinical need to understand what was happening after the patient left the physician with a prescription,” she says. “They would return with vague data about their seizure activity, and it just felt really unfair that the burden of care in decision making was being pushed onto the patients.” The problem was that more than half the time, people don’t remember they’ve had seizures, and parents don’t always know what sort of side effects medication is having on their kids, which creates a lot of trial-and-error.
Rachel resolved to find a solution to this missing data as a way to positively impact the lives of the estimated 70 million people with epilepsy. “We know that 70% of them can live seizure-free if they have the proper diagnosis and treatment,” she says.
Pioneering an innovative strategy
In her work caring for patients, running the neurophysiology lab and reading video electroencephalographs (EEGs), Rachel realized that a universal description of this loss of consciousness is that the patient would exhibit a “glazed-over” appearance.
That description inspired the foundation of Eysz, a digital health platform that aims to measure, diagnose and predict neurological disease using analysis of passive eye movements. “I realized that if we can visually pick up this symptom, then an eye tracker should work,” she says. Eye trackers take video or other eye movement data and convert it into a series of numbers that can then be analyzed using machine learning algorithms or signal processing tools.
She oversaw a proof of concept at UCSF to show effectiveness in a population of children who were experiencing “absence seizures,” which are notoriously hard to measure because they are so short – five to 10 seconds – and result in kids just stopping and staring briefly. After the successful test, Rachel then decided to focus on the company full-time to get it off the ground.
Eysz is currently in the clinical trial phase – which has been slowed due to COVID – and is conducting a multi-site clinical study in an effort to gain FDA clearance for the initial device, which is a seizure measurement system to identify absence seizures.
However, she says, the goal is to build out a whole platform that measures side effects as well as seizures, which can help the physician make the best choices about medication management.
Finding support through the Ferolyn Fellowship
Rachel says that while she always considered medicine as a team sport, entrepreneurship is even more so, which is one of the elements of the Fellowship she most appreciates. “It has been intellectually stimulating to have the chance to bounce ideas off of people and get insight and a different perspective from someone who has gone through this process before and has deep expertise in the industry.”
She finds it helps to step back and identify areas that need improvement but also realize areas where you are successful. “There’s a lot of doubt that comes with entrepreneurship so it’s helpful to be able to work through some of that with others.”
With Kate Garrett as her mentor, Rachel has already realized benefits from her participation. Most notably, she says Kate has helped her better communicate with different audiences, like investors, which is a skill one needs to acquire as an entrepreneur.
While free time is elusive, when Rachel does find some, she enjoys staying active – hiking and swimming – and then baking with her kids.