UCT scientists devise cheaper, better Epipen replacement
Very welcome news for people at risk of anaphylactic shock
Scientists from the University of Cape Town are working to take the sting out of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
They have just been awarded technical and marketing support worth R180,000 for the ZibiPen, which is expected to lower the cost and lengthen the shelf life of adrenaline auto-injectors — commonly called Epipens.
Patients who risk anaphylactic shock if they are stung by a bee, for example, will be able to keep and refill the ZibiPen for years, rather than having to replace the device once the adrenaline dosage expires after 18 months.
The ZibiPen will cost less than existing adrenaline auto-injectors, which UCT's Michael Levin, head of the allergy and asthma division at Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, said were too expensive for a lot of lower- and-middle income South Africans.
“It’s not just a one-off cost burden, it’s a recurrent cost burden that they deal with all the time,” Levin said.The ZibiPen’s adrenaline cartridge can be switched out after the dosage expires, meaning the entire device will have to be replaced only after it is used to treat anaphylaxis.
Sudesh Sivarasu, who heads UCT’s medical devices lab, said the ZibiPen is intended to solve problems beyond the shelf life and cost of existing adrenaline auto-injectors. It is also designed to have adjustable needle sizes and adrenaline dosages.
Current auto-injectors have a one-size-fits-all needle, which Sivarasu said can be too long or too short for some patients, meaning the adrenaline isn’t injected into the right place and is not as effective. The concentration of the dosage in the ZibiPen would also be more customisable than is currently available, Sivarasu said.
It may be a fortuitous time for the ZibiPen, as the need for adrenaline auto-injectors is increasing according to Sivarasu, with the global market expected to go from $1.8-billion to $3.2-billion in the next five years.The ZibiPen is expected to cost patients about R1,600 in a five-year period, UCT alumnus Gokul Nair said. Nair, with fellow ex-student Giancarlo Beukes, has formed a company to manage the development, trials and sales of the ZibiPen. According to Nair, existing adrenaline auto-injectors can cost patients about R7,000-R8,000 in a five-year period.
If the ZibiPen gets onto the market, patients would have to have a prescription for it, Nair said, and a new vial of adrenaline would be available for refilling the auto-injector every year.
“The whole idea … is to make sure the auto-injector is available to a wider variety of people,” Nair said. "It's a South African solution to a South African problem."