Teen entrepreneurs create platform to make drug donations easy

When he worked part-time one summer in a Brooklyn pharmacy, Rahul Kavuru made occasional sweeps of the store’s inventory to find nearly expired drugs and dispose of them.

The high school student suspected the drugs could have been put to better use. Conversations with his peers reinforced the notion and eventually prompted action on what is, in fact, a costly problem for pharmaceutical companies.

In early 2020, Kavuru, his sister and a friend started a nonprofit, Altrui Rx, and built a technology platform to match drug companies with nonprofits that help patients in need.

“The biggest problem is that it costs money to destroy the medication and it costs money to hold the product,” said Kavuru, a junior at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. His co-founders are his sister, Shreya Kavuru, a senior at St. Paul’s, and Sourish Jasti, a freshman at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Their research into the problem led them to conclude that roughly $5 billion worth of medication is destroyed each year at a cost of between $1 and $3 per pound, Rahul Kavuru said in a phone interview.

Drug companies often collaborate with charities to distribute medications they might otherwise destroy. But it is hard for manufacturers to work with more than a handful of charities, said Jasti, who plans to pursue studies in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Altrui’s platform makes it easier to find charities and learn what they need, Jasti said. Drug companies sign in, upload inventory that is near expiration and then pick from a list of organizations where they can send it. The charities are all vetted by Altrui.

Drug companies can then download packing slips and tracking numbers to send their products to the selected charities.

“We are an intermediary in the process,” Kavuru said. “The goal is to bring out more impact and create an accessible portal for these medications.”

Within a few months after its founding, Altrui had redirected nearly $12.3 million worth of medication. Its pharmacy partners include Aurobindo Pharma, Ingenus Pharmaceuticals and Rising Pharmaceuticals, where Altrui’s founders had an inside connection through a neighbor in their hometown of Holmdel, New Jersey. Rahul and Shreya now live in Rumson, New Jersey.

The founders initially spent their own money to build and host their website. But they have gotten subsequent funding from Aurobindo, the New Jersey Health Foundation and the BEN Health Innovation Summit, which is sponsored by Rutgers University. BEN stands for Biomedical Entrepreneurship Network.

They also have started a companion nonprofit, Altrui Education. It provides college counseling services to disadvantaged students. The two charities are staffed by a team of 15 volunteers.

In addition to their work at Altrui, Jasti and Rahul Kavuru run a blog called CompanyRoots, which interviews business experts and entrepreneurs about their experiences.

Altrui’s founders have impressed Paul Moore II, president and CEO of CitiHope Relief and Development in Margaretville, New York.

Over the past three decades, CitiHope has delivered more than $1.5 billion worth of donated medication to people and organizations around the world. The nonprofit has existing relationships with drug companies, but decided to give Altrui a try, Moore said in a phone interview.

This led CitiHope to get connected to new donors using Altrui’s platform. Moore, whose own philanthropic career began when he was a teenager, was heartened to find that the founders of the nascent startup have worked hard to learn more about this charitable niche.  

“Every interaction I’ve had with them has been, ‘Can we do this better? How have you managed this in the past?’” Moore said.

Photo: cagkansayin, Getty Images

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