IN his quest to cure diseases affecting children Dr Paul Watt has managed to create a product that not only makes kids smile, but also significantly increases their use of asthma medication.
The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (ICHR) senior research fellow’s invention, the Funhaler, will be available for retail this year through ASX-listed Xcell Diagnostics, which acquired Dr Watt’s product commercialisation company, Infamed.
Frustrated with the failure of most asthma medicating devices, Dr Watt designed the Funhaler and formed Infamed to commercialise it.
“It’s a classic case of the emergence of a kitchen table invention and taking it all the way to the commercialisation process,” Dr Watt said.
The Funhaler works using incentive toys and a loud whistle to make the process of taking asthma medication less frightening for children, and less stressful for parents.
“I developed it out of my frustration at having difficulty helping my young son take his asthma medication as prescribed,” Dr Watt said. “Like many children he was frightened by the process.
“There is data that shows parents fail to offer medication as frequently as recommended because they find the medication episode so stressful.
“It’s known that people who don’t take preventative medication are more likely to end up in hospitals with asthma attacks, and let’s not forget that asthma is a deadly disease; it kills kids.”
Dr Watt decided to use incentive toys to make the medicating process fun rather than frightening.
“A lot of people have attempted to include toys in the device but they failed because they put the toys inside the spacer device,” Dr Watt said.
“What we did was isolate the toys in a separate branch of the circuit so that the toys did not interfere with effective medication delivery.”
Trials of the Funhaler reveal a significant improvement in medication adherence.
“There was a 38 per cent improvement in the frequency with which medication was offered. There was also an increase in the amount of children using the right technique, that is taking four breaths or more,” Dr Watt said.
“Up to 60 per cent of children breathed the recommended amount, compared with a conventional inhaler.”
The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (ICHR) is a shareholder in Infamed and Dr Watt has become a director in the parent company, Xcell Diagnostics.
But that’s not all Dr Watt gets up to in the research lab. He also played a critical role in forming the institute’s first spin-off company, Phylogica, and is currently the company’s director and chief scientist.
Phylogica was formed to commercialise research born from Dr Watt’s research lab and aims to improve the efficiencies of drug development.
“We realised we had this mature patent portfolio, all developed at the ICHR, which is very pro-active in protecting its IP,” Dr Watt said.
What makes the developments at Phylogica enticing for pharmaceutical companies is its patent technology, which allows a quicker screening process. Traditionally, drug development processes are slow, expensive, and inefficient.
“This process can take 12 to 15 years, leaving only five to eight years of effective patent life to recover development costs,” Dr Watt said.
“To get a drug to market costs an average $US500 million to $800 million.”
Phylogica scientists are working on creating a drug that targets cancer cells.
“The reason this is important is that conventional chemotherapy targets all rapidly dividing cells non-specifically. It also kills normal cells rapidly, and that is why people suffer horrible side effects,” Dr Watt said.
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