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Faculty of Applied Sciences

SFU grad develops wearable harm reduction device

May 18, 2023
Photo credit: Simon Fraser University

A medical device developed by a Simon Fraser University alumnus to provide real-time overdose monitoring and detection is now one step closer to providing harm reduction solutions—for impacted individuals and service providers addressing the issue—after acquisition by a digital health company.

ODEN Health Solutions, founded in 2020 by CEO Alex McGovern (BASc ’20), is now working exclusively with BC-based LifeGuard Digital Health to bring new innovative solutions to help people in crisis.

The opioid crisis continues to devastate families and communities across Canada; more than 30,000 people have died from related overdoses since 2016, and 2,272 lives have been lost in BC over 2022.  

ODEN’s self-contained wearable device can be worn on a person’s arm for immediate feedback signs of an overdose. The device then notifies emergency services to be sent to the person’s location.  McGovern’s goal is to see the device, now in its final phase of testing with the help of LifeGuard, available by early 2025.

LifeGuard’s primary products include overdose prevention apps within cell phones. With the acquisition of ODEN product and talent - McGovern is now LifeGuard’s Director of Technology Development – the company aims to also remove the barrier to accessing overdose prevention for people without cell phones.

Once ODEN’s wearable technology product is ready, LifeGuard plans to include this device within an expanded partnership with the B.C. Provincial Health Services Authority. In the meantime, the company is also connecting with social housing and SRO management while developing hardware timing devices that could go into occupants’ rooms, including a timer that can be set before using substances.

“We’re really excited that it’s entering beta trials right now,” says McGovern. “We’ve done our first installations and are waiting to get feedback on it now.”

McGovern drew inspiration and motivation for ODEN from his SFU studies. The idea for his product initially started as practice for practically applying the techniques and software he was learning about in his biomedical engineering undergraduate program.

“We apply those techniques everywhere in the wearable device and all the vital signs we monitor,” says McGovern. “Having that background was very important because it let me know what could actually be done or what was years and years away.” He cites SFU engineering science professor Bonnie Gray as a major supporter of the research and development of wearable health monitoring devices.  

To move his idea beyond the classroom, in 2019 McGovern accessed key programs within SFU’s Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship, including Mentor MeetSPARK, the Coast Capital Venture Connection incubator and eCoop, which enabled him to work on ODEN for a semester within the incubator, with a full-time salary.

In 2022, the biomedical device company won Top Venture at SFU’s annual Coast Capital Venture Prize.

McGovern thanks Chang Institute mentors and staff for guiding him in ODEN’s development.“My eCoop experience was super important in my journey both personally and in ODEN’s journey as a company, in that we got validation from others who thought it was a good idea and put some support behind it,” says McGovern. “In those four months, we probably made more progress than we had in the previous year.”