Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Promoting Public Health: Saving lives with the first dry powder inhalable vaccine for measles

November 20, 2009

Scientists have developed the first dry powder
inhalable vaccine for measles. The inhaler is easy
to use.
Credit: Aktiv-Dry, LLC (High-resolution version)


The first dry powder inhalable vaccine for measles is
moving toward clinical trials next year in India, where
the disease still sickens millions of infants and children
and kills almost 200,000 annually, scientists are
reporting. Robert Sievers, Ph.D., who leads the team
that developed the dry-powder vaccine, said it’s a
perfect fit for use in back-roads areas of developing
countries. Those areas often lack the electricity
for refrigeration, clean water and sterile needles
needed to administer traditional liquid vaccines.

Vaccines are modern-day miracles that save millions of lives each year. We now have about 30 different vaccines for infectious diseases ranging from old foes like polio to emerging threats like the H1N1 influenza virus. But millions of people never reap the benefits, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. That’s in part because most vaccines require electricity for refrigeration and sterile hypodermic needles. Unfortunately, they are unavailable in many developing areas of the world. That’s the case with measles. In countries like India, measles still sickens millions of infants and children and kills almost 200,000 people annually. But that may soon change.

Robert Sievers of the University of Colorado and his colleagues developed the world’s first dry powder inhalable vaccine for measles. Unlike the current measles vaccine, the new one needs neither refrigeration nor needles. People can take the powdered vaccine simply by inhaling it through the mouth or nose from a plastic bag. Dr. Sievers described his work at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.

Here is Dr. Sievers:

“Many serious infections, such as the measles virus, can enter the body
through inhalation. Measles vaccine dry powders have the potential to effectively
vaccinate infants, children and adults by inhalation, avoiding the problems
associated with liquid vaccines delivered by injection”

Although scientists developed the dry powder vaccine for developing countries, the technology could open the door to a new generation of inhalable vaccines for the United States and elsewhere. So far, there’s an inhalable vaccine for only one disease — flu.

Dr. Sievers used knowledge from his former work as an atmospheric scientist to develop the vaccine. He then studied how people inhale tiny aerosol particles that are air pollutants. It uses a patented process that involves mixing weakened measles virus with a special form of pressurized carbon dioxide to produce microscopic bubbles and droplets. Scientists then dry these tiny particles to make an inhalable powder.

His team also is developing an inexpensive inhaler to dispense the powder. In its present form, the inhaler resembles a plastic sandwich bag. Here again is Dr. Sievers:

“By taking one deep breath from the sack, a child could be effectively vaccinated.”

Scientists have tested the new vaccine in animals and it appears just as effective as the traditional injectable measles vaccine. There’s also one very welcome advantage: It takes the "ouch" out of vaccination..

But the success of the vaccine depends on the outcome of clinical trials. Here again is Dr. Sievers:

“Human clinical trials are expected to begin next year in India, after animal safety studies are completed this year. About two-thirds of the world’s deaths due to measles occur in that nation. Worldwide, several hundred people die every day from measles-related disease.”

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking

That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Be sure to check our other podcasts on promoting public health [Promoting Public Health and Redefining DNA: Darwin from the atom up and Sandcastle worm’s secrets could yield new medical adhesive. Today’s podcast was written by Mark Sampson. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Robert Sievers, Ph.D.