FDA funds Australian research for better, affordable asthma inhalers

Australian researchers have been awarded $AU1 million ($US687,000) from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop improved testing methods for dry powder inhalers.

The project will enable the more effective development of inhalers, particularly generic inhaler devices, in the hope of increasing access to affordable inhalers for asthma sufferers in the US and worldwide.

The researchers, led by the University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Agisilaos Kourmatzis, from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, and Professor Hak-Kim Chan, who leads the Advanced Drug Delivery Group at the Sydney Pharmacy School, are developing modern methods to assess the performance of asthma inhalers.

Professor Hak-Kim Chan

Professor Hak-Kim Chan

According to the World Health Organization, asthma affects 262 million people worldwide, with under-diagnosis, under-treatment and lack of access to inhalers a challenge in many parts of the world.

“This is certainly the case in the US, where inhalers are expensive, with the first generic dry powder inhaler only being approved for use in 2019,” said Associate Professor Kourmatzis, who has asthma and used a dry powder inhaler for many years.

In 2015, the overall estimated cost of asthma in Australia was approximately $28 billion.

“Fortunately, in Australia, dry powder inhalers are subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, but they are still expensive to manufacture and purchase, and the devices suffer from substantial inefficiency, presenting a significant cost burden to our health system,” he said.

Associate Professor Agisilaos Kourmatzis

Associate Professor Agisilaos Kourmatzis

According to Associate Professor Kourmatzis, dry powder inhalers are a tricky area to study because they deliver very complex dosages compared to medicines that are swallowed, like tablets.

“It’s a bit like trying to land a spaceship loaded with precious cargo on an asteroid using a PlayStation controller. Basically, you have particles of medicine flying through a device, then the mouth, throat and airways, eventually having to land in a specific area in the lungs, all the while trying to avoid losses along the way – it’s not a simple process,” he said.

“Our study aims to enhance in-vitro testing to help us better understand what is really going on in these complex systems.

“We will do this using more sophisticated data to drive the development of computational models that can fill in the gaps that we can’t address in the lab and by developing new optical and laser-based techniques that can offer new insights into this problem.”

The research team also includes Dr Liam Milton McGurk, Dr Taye Mekonnen and Dr Gajendra Singh from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Associate Professor Shaokoon Cheng from Macquarie University’s School of Engineering.

Declaration: The researchers declare no conflict of interest.

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