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Inhalable Drugs Let Patients Take a Breather from Needles

inhalerEarlier this month, a team of researchers led by the University of Colorado at Boulder announced that the inhalable measles vaccine they developed could lead to vaccines for other diseases. Researchers believe that the technique used to make the vaccine could be used to create vaccines for conditions such as tuberculosis and cervical cancer. The vaccine was formulated by mixing “supercritical” carbon dioxide with a weakened form of the measles virus. The mixture produces microscopic bubbles and droplets that are dried to make the inhalable powder, which is put into a plastic sack with a mouth like a water bottle. Patients receive the vaccine by taking a deep breath from the sack. The vaccine is scheduled to undergo clinical trials in India later this year. According to the World Health Organization, measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children. In 2008, an estimated 164,000 people died from measles worldwide. Inhalable vaccines offer several advantages over needle-based delivery methods. Needles are painful, they can transmit diseases under certain circumstances, and they're challenging to dispose of safely. Powders offer a more comfortable vaccination experience, minus the risks that come with unsafe syringe use. Powders also have the potential to treat existing conditions. A 2010 report by ReportLinker found that that inhaled therapeutics generated $26.3 billion in revenue in 2008. Respiratory drugs accounted for 78 percent of the total. One company developing inhalable medications is Epigenesis Pharmaceuticals. The Cranbury, New Jersey-based company is working on inhalable powders to treat asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other respiratory diseases. Their lead product is an inhalable non-glucocorticoid steroid for asthma patients. The powder has demonstrated anti-asthma properties in clinical trials, minus the usual side effects of non-glucocorticoid steroids. Another company, Nektar Therapeutics, has completed a Phase I clinical trial of an inhaled antibiotic to treat gram-positive pneumonia. Inhaled insulin has been of particular interest to pharmaceutical companies, although MarketWatch reports that recent attempts have met with setbacks. Other companies working in the inhalation therapy space: Aradigm Corporation is developing a drug delivery platform for inhalation therapeutics to treat cystic fibrosis, inhalation anthrax, smoking cessation and diabetes. Alexza Pharmaceuticals is developing products for the acute treatment of central nervous system conditions. The company’s pipeline includes inhalation candidates to treat agitation in schizophrenia or bipolar patients, panic attacks, and migraines. In the video below, Thomas King, President and CEO of Alexza Pharmaceuticals, discusses his company at the 2010 OneMedForum.

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