October 20, 2006 4:25 PM PDT

Inoculation innovation: Aerosol vaccines may replace needles

Syringes are designed for offices, not villages, according to Jose Gomez-Marquez.

Roughly a third of all vaccine injections done in developing nations are unsafe because of needles being reused or active ingredients becoming warm. Each year, 250,000 incidents of HIV infection occur because of needle reuse, Gomez-Marquez said.

"You're improvising with clinical systems that were never designed for these areas," he said during a talk at the Emerging Ventures conference in San Jose this week.

To help get around this problem, Aerovax, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company he co-founded, has designed a system that can deliver a vaccine through an inhaled, aerosol spray. Just as important, the vaccine doesn't need to be kept cool. One person can carry the Aerovax system and provide inoculations for seven days in the field before reloading. Other scientists and organizations are working on similar aerosol projects.

Overall, the system cuts about 62 percent of the cost of delivering vaccines. The company is currently conducting trials in India and Ghana.

Eventually, the system may also come to the developed world. Roughly $12 billion worldwide is spent on vaccines, he said.

The main need right now, however, is in developing nations. Approximately 530,000 people died in 2003 from measles. Each year, an estimated 45 million children get the disease, though the vaccines, where available, combat it fairly well.

Earlier in the year, Aerovax won the IDEAS competition sponsored by the Lemelson-MIT foundation. The company currently expects to live off grants. Venture capitalists, particularly in Israel, however, have recently been showing more interest in medical devices.

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