When Javier Evelyn ’06 was a student at Illinois State University, he at times felt left out when dining with fellow students on campus. Still, this adversity would later motivate him to launch Alerje Inc., a Michigan-based food allergy management innovation team.
Evelyn has suffered from food allergies since the age of 5, but as he got older, his allergies evolved. He went from struggling with a mild fish allergy to developing allergies to milk, tree nuts, and more. He had to be mindful and aware of food allergies every day.
“With your family, your food allergies become second nature, but once you go out and about, you feel like you’re on an island,” Evelyn said. “You have to eat every day, and you have to be constantly aware of what you’re eating. It even goes back to my time at Illinois State. I was the guy in the corner of Wright Hall eating chicken wings while everyone else was enjoying pizza. Ha ha.”
Although Evelyn’s degree from ISU was in mass communication, emphasizing cinema studies, he started as a business major. Those entrepreneurial skills later helped him develop his own company to assist others with food allergies.
“After graduation, the first job I had was telemarketing, but I hated it and quit after a few weeks. Eventually, I got into sales and insurance in corporate America,” he said. “Then, I went back into the family business and got focused on entrepreneurship. I learned that if I didn’t show up, a check wouldn’t either. It was fun, but it was scary.”
Soon after, Evelyn got involved with the Mobile Makers Academy in Chicago, where he learned how to develop software and build iOS apps. It was after this he was able to combine his two passions of business and technology to launch Alerje (pronounced “allergy”). Including himself, over 220 million are impacted by food allergies worldwide. As a result, Alerje is working to improve the lives of patients and their caregivers through continued innovations such as the upcoming OIT Adherence Platform, OmniJect, and Alerje Lifestyle app.
Alerje has developed a National Science Foundation-backed adherence digital health app for those living with food allergies and allergists undergoing Oral Immunotherapy (OIT). This is when an individual eats a small bit of what they are allergic to in order to develop an increased tolerance to it, as there is no cure for food allergies currently. Alerje appreciates that this method can be difficult for many with allergies, so to be as inclusive as possible, it has developed other resources, such as the Alerje Lifestyle app.
“It’s available on iOS and Android. It’s the one-stop-shop for anyone with food allergies,” said Evelyn. “It allows you to track what you eat daily, type in what you eat to see what’s in it, and share that information with anyone in the family.”
In addition to the app, Evelyn and the Alerje team are developing the OmniJect, a patented phone case with an epinephrine auto-injector that prioritizes storage, convenience, and safety. This will allow those who suffer from allergies to always have their epinephrine with them and stored at the right temperature in case of an emergency. When a dose is activated from the case, automatic alerts are sent to the patient’s allergist, first responders, and their support circle.
“Epinephrine is your first line of defense,” Evelyn said. “People with food allergies are required to carry it with them at all times because the one time they forget to bring it is when they may need it.”
The OmniJect aims to avoid this by ensuring that a dose of epinephrine is readily available at all times. While Evelyn and Alerje are still working on partnerships and FDA approval, several pharmaceutical companies are interested. The development of the OmniJect is the bridge to support the millions of people worldwide navigating food allergies and managing an OIT regimen.
While they continue to work to get the OmniJect approved, the team at Alerje are still here to support those living with allergies with information about OIT, The Lifestyle Alerje app, blog posts, and links to endless resources. Additionally, Evelyn offers his advice to those living with allergies.
“Number one, you’re not alone in this whole thing. There’s a very dedicated food allergy community. More than anything else, be diligent about discussing your food allergies. Don’t think you’re an inconvenience to anyone,” he said. “What’s most important is to be prepared, know that it’s fine, and know that you have more people around you than you may know. Having food allergies can seem isolating at times, so always keep a support system around you, and most importantly, be sure to educate your support system. We even have resources on our website to help you educate them, so you don’t have to put together your own presentation.”
Javier and his team are here to ensure that individuals are thriving with allergies, not suffering from them.