Aerogen powering ahead with inhaler vaccine solution

By Darren McDonagh

Galway medical device company Aerogen are working on an inhaled solution to the vaccination process.

That’s according to CEO John Power, who said that hundreds of millions of people could be vaccinated much quicker using an aerosol solution rather than the injectable system.

“The beauty of it is that it would avoid needles. The patient just aerosolises into a container and then throws it away, so it’s very rapid,” he said.

Having previously worked with the World Health Organisation on an exploratory programme for inhaled measles vaccinations, Aerogen has been focused on developing the system for future vaccines.

“We’ve developed a system that we call ‘pop-up vaccine stations’ which can be transported anywhere as it’s very compact which is ideal in managing mass vaccinations,” he said.

“It’s being tried out by a company in China and is shortly going to be part of a large study.”

The company is also involved in more than 15 clinical trials with different anti-viral drugs used to treat the symptoms associated with Covid-19. These trials have a particular focus on people suffering from long-term symptoms of the virus.

“A lot of these trials are in their pivotal stage, which is the final stage before their release to market,” he said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a significant strain was placed on the company as employees raced to meet global demands.

“We were over-run with orders because our product is the leading product used on ventilators worldwide so of course as people needed ventilators, they also needed our product.

“We had a pretty traumatic time from last March onwards. We even put a couple of packing lines in our office buildings to help relieve the manufacturing sites. So, we had scientists and accountants packing boxes for weeks, just to try to meet the demand,” he said.

Mr Power found it challenging trying to lead the company under Covid-19 restrictions, particularly given the nature of his business.

“The Government talk about everyone working from home, which drives me mad because there’s no way we could have responded to the crisis if we all decided to go home and lock the door for a few months.

“We had to come to work. It couldn’t have all been done remotely. You can’t build product remotely and you can’t ship it remotely,” he said.

Despite the numerous challenges, Mr Power was happy with the response from his company.

“At a time when a lot of things were shutting down, we were trying to ramp up our productions so it was a very difficult time. But I’m quite proud of the response from the company.

“You don’t judge the effectiveness of a business during normal conditions – you really find out the effectiveness of your business when you’re in a crisis,” he said.

Aerogen recorded revenues of €100m last year, which Mr Power said goes straight back into the company.

“Aerogen is unusual in that all the money that it makes goes back into research and development so we’re very unlike a typical company that pays out dividends or pays out shareholders. Any money this company makes gets ploughed right back into research.

“One Aerogen-owned product we’re looking at is an inhaled surfactant for premature babies and we’re funding that clinical programme ourselves. That could have the most profound impact in neo-natal care in probably 50 years if it’s successful and the survival rates hopefully will be increased by it,” he added.

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