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RAMP Cohort Member awarded grant to help battle opioid crisis

Updated: 3 days ago

ROANOKE — A 2018 RAMP business accelerator cohort member has been awarded a $300,000 federal grant which it will use to develop a screening tool capable of detecting signs of opioid misuse and addiction in patients.


CEO and Co-Founder Sarah Snider, Ph.D.

BEAM Diagnostics Inc., a Roanoke-based health and technology startup, specializes in the development of screening tools doctors can use to assess whether a patient is likely to suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Over the past year, BEAM, in conjunction with Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic, has developed an application called Beacon, which can help doctors detect whether a patient is abusing alcohol. That work, funded using a $300,000 Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, will guide the company as it expands its tools to encompass opioid misuse. The expansion is also funded with the help of a $300,000 STTR grant, in this case provided by the National Institutes of Health.


BEAM Diagnostics CEO Sarah Snider said that the company plans to follow a process similar to the one it used for creating Beacon for developing its newest diagnostic tool. During the first six months of the year-long grant, the company plans to expand Beacon’s questionnaires to encompass questions which might predict opioid use disorder. In the second six months, the company plans to test its assessment tool by screening patients who visit Carilion’s orthopedic surgery and psychiatry divisions. Those screenings will give BEAM the information it needs to determine whether its assessment tool is capable of preventing or reducing opioid abuse.


“The primary focus is to try and capture individuals who are likely being prescribed the opioids. That’s why we’re targeting orthopedic surgery and psychiatry,” Snider said. “There are prescriptions coming from those clinics, and so it’s kind of a good place to start, to measure whether or not an individual would be at risk if they were prescribed too many.”

Risk assessment tools like Beacon have also been shown to reduce substance misuse over time, Snider said. Brief interventions especially seem to be effective at reducing the amount of controlled substances someone takes. During focus groups with physicians, Snider said one of the main questions she and others at BEAM are asked is what doctors are meant to do with a patient’s risk assessment score once the app has provided it.


“The doctors could present the score to the patients directly. They could present it as a motivational interview style. It would be a brief conversation of, ‘This is where you are,’ and ‘This is where we need you to be next time,’” Snider said. “There is a lot of support around screening right now. The US Preventative Task Force has been recommending that out patients, regardless of age, and even pregnant women should be screened for alcohol overuse every time.”


If BEAM’s risk assessment tools for either alcohol or opioid misuse prove useful, Snider said that the company could be awarded additional federal grants. Those funds would allow the business to ready a prototype for wider commercial distribution, something that the business is already preparing for through its partnership with Virginia Tech and Carilion.

“We’re very excited to be partnered through this STTR mechanism with both Virginia Tech and Carilion,” Snider said. “They’re helping us validate a tool that we think could really have value in screening for alcohol misuse and opioid misuse. We’re looking forward to Beacon helping both doctors and patients.”


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