DermaTec CEO Anh-Dung Lee

Albuquerque Biotech Startup Gains National Attention

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Albuquerque Biotech Startup Gains National Attention


An Albuquerque based biotech business is gaining national attention and possibly saving lives through its ONUSblue patch, a wearable patch that can detect when and how much alcohol a wearer consumes.

Albuquerque-based DermaTec is developing a patch that can detect alcohol through a person’s sweat. The patch, called ONUSblue, isn’t scheduled to be released until July, but the company has already raised $40,000 in seed funding and earned national attention for their possibly life-saving technology. DermaTec CEO Anh-Dung Lee credits much of the company’s success to their relationship with the BioScience Center, which he says started even before DermaTec began, and to the help of Dr. Frank Etscorn, the first patent holder for the nicotine patch and a Socorro resident.

ONUSblue is the first alcohol patch that uses visible color gradation to show when and how much alcohol a person has consumed. The disposable patch turns a darker shade of blue overtime as the wearer consumes more alcohol, turning it’s brightest after two to three drinks. Anh says that the patch works by detecting blood alcohol levels through the tiny amounts of sweat that are constantly being secreted through a person’s skin. And though Anh acknowledges that the company is still in its early stages, he envisions a future where ONUSblue can be used to deter people from drunk driving, cue bar and restaurant owners about when to stop serving alcohol and ultimately save lives.

“It’s only the first step,” Anh says. “But it’s a big first step. We’re working with big alcohol companies that want to see their buyers drink more responsibly, companies like Uber who might be able to offer discounts to users whose patches turn blue to keep them off the streets and people who just want to be more responsible.”

The company is now working to manufacture the ONUSblue patch and raise funds through a crowdfunding campaign. Anh says that he’s thrilled to have gotten this far but he knows it’s just the beginning. “We still have a lot of work to do. The work we do sometimes isn’t as sexy as it seems. There’s a lot of mundane day to day problems just like any other startup.”

Even so, he’s excited to see where DermaTec and Albuquerque’s private sector in general can go. “The private sector has an urgency that the public sector doesn’t have, and that’s the cash urgency. Building the private sector – that’s how you create jobs for new graduates and people with high skill sets in this economy,” says Anh.

Much like Albuquerque’s Integration Initiative, Anh sees the potential for the private sector in Albuquerque to grow and become a place where skilled workers can prosper. The collaborative and supportive environment that Albuquerque has seen emerging over the last few years has assisted in ONUSblue’s journey – and we suspect more stories like this one as we grow increasingly connected in our work and mission to best support the entrepreneurs and innovators who are growing jobs right here at home.

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