Rewriting Life

Four-Cent Inhaler

Cheap device could replace syringes

Drugmakers are increasingly turning to inhalable versions of vaccines and drugs in order to avoid the hassle and danger of syringes. A new inhaler that costs only four cents could administer powdered drugs as effectively as traditional inhalers that cost 10 times as much. The technology, which uses no moving parts, could help poor countries stop relying on syringes, which cost pennies apiece but require trained staff and carry an infection risk. To make their inhaler cheaper, engineers at Cambridge Consultants of Cambridge, England, and Boston focused on its internal shape. When a user inhales, a kind of miniature tornado forms inside the device, lifting a powdered drug into the air. The company is in talks with pharmaceutical firms to test the device with a powdered flu vaccine, among other drugs. Though an inhaler is a fraction of the price of a vaccine dose (currently $3 to $7), the savings could make a difference. “Everyone in the field dreams of a future with these kinds of simple, low-cost vaccine delivery systems,” says Donald Francis, cofounder of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, a nonprofit vaccine developer. “Moving to a needle-free model is a goal most of us share.”

A prototype inhaler shown here lacks moving parts but delivers drugs effectively thanks to its internal shape.

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