Former Yale roommates win $75K grand prize at Harvard to combat disease
Nearly two years ago, Andrew Rothaus ’11 B.A., recalls, he had a conversation with his sister-in-law who was pregnant and living in Miami, Florida, the U.S. state with highest confirmed cases of Zika virus. “She was nervous,” he says. Rothaus was already at work developing a new technology — involving a patented, multi-armed molecule called HAPI™ — and wondered if he could use it to make a long-lasting mosquito repellent.
He called up his former Yale roommate, Dr. Abraar Karan ’11 B.A., who is currently a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Both alums went to Harvard following graduation — Rothaus to Harvard Business School (he graduates this year) and Karan to Harvard School of Public Health.
“He asked me if a long-acting mosquito repellent would be impactful in a global health setting,” says Karan, who has worked in nearly a dozen countries in global healthcare delivery. “In general, no one is looking at individual repellents due to the chemicals involved and the fact that they don’t last long enough. The product we’ve developed addresses all those issues.”
As cofounders of Hour72+, the former roommates are developing an insect repellent that, as its name implies, maintains long-lasting efficacy, and does not rely on harmful chemicals like DEET and pyrethrin. The proprietary molecule behind their product allows the waterproof, plant-based formulation to bond to the skin temporarily without being absorbed. The startup won the Dubilier $75,000 Grand Prize at the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition on April 18.
Doing good in developing countries is a key facet of their business. “We want to enter the market as quickly as possible and leverage the sales to enter the developing world,” Rothaus says. While they are still deciding how the business will be structured, they have brought on experts in both infectious diseases and social ventures to help guide their thinking, including Marcia Castro, associate professor of demography in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Muhammad Ali Pate, the former minister of health of Nigeria who successfully led the fight to eradicate polio in his country.
The Hour72+ founders believe they have reason to be hopeful. Independent testing they’ve undertaken shows that at 24 hours, their product is 99% effective — 100% of mosquitoes did not bite, and 98% did not land. With the award’s support, they are planning more testing and hope eventually to expand to developing repellents for other disease-bearing insects, including ticks and fleas.
“We want this to be safer and more effective than anything that’s ever been on the market,” says Rothaus.
Interested in connecting? Email the Hour72+ founders at firstname.lastname@example.org.