NEW YORK - Imagine a vaccine vial with a temperature-sensitive label that changes colors when exposed to excessive heat.
That's the sort of technology that can make a huge difference for doctors working in challenging conditions, allowing them to determine at-a-glance whether heat-sensitive vaccines are viable.
The vaccine vial monitor is one of the projects at the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), an international nonprofit based in Seattle with more than 22 offices around the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, India and Southeast Asia.
The organization partners with foundations, non-governmental organizations and governments to expedite the development of global health solutions such as vaccines, drugs and medical devices. PATH's aim is to help deliver breakthroughs in drug and medical devices on a global scale.
Tribendimidine (TrBD) is one of those potential breakthroughs — a drug treatment for soil-transmitted helminths, or intestinal worm infections.
According to the World Health Organization, over 1.5 billion people, or 24 percent of the global population, have acquired soil-transmitted helminths infections. Tropical and subtropical regions of the world are most affected, with the highest rates of incidences in sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, China and East Asia.
The development of new drugs like TrBD helps deter increasing resistance to existing drugs, when used in tandem with or as a replacement for these drugs.
Advice for entrepreneurs
David Shoultz, program leader for drug development at PATH, considers three factors essential to the long-term success of health care solutions, and advises aspiring entrepreneurs to keep them in mind: demand, cost and consumer-oriented product design.
"Unless we understand what the user is looking for and if we can then actually project what the demand will be … any technology, no matter how good it is, is likely to fall flat," he said.
Shoultz recommends entrepreneurs find partners who can be a bridge into the global health arena.
"It may be that the entrepreneur truly does have a brilliant idea and it's already available in a different setting," he said. Organizations like PATH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can help filter and shape ideas, along with facilitating important industry connections.
Cost is another important consideration for entrepreneurs. Medical technologies developed in high-income countries can be less accessible to those in middle- or low-income countries, which is why Shoultz advises entrepreneurs to keep prices as low as possible.
For example, PATH's drug for soil-transmitted helminths will sell for $0.06 to $0.07 cents a tablet.
"To be honest, there are comparable drugs that are even a little bit less expensive than that," noted Shoultz, "We're constantly trying to think of, OK, how could we make it even a little bit less expensive.'"
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Global entrepreneurs should also consider end-users not just as patients, but as consumers, Shoultz said.
"Sometimes we think about consumers or users in low-income settings as being very utilitarian, and in fact, my experience … is that they're looking for the same thing that all of us are looking for in consumer goods — they do want to be excited and delighted," he said.
To that end, PATH developed a rice fortification technology called Ultra Rice in which grains made from rice flour are fortified with vitamins and minerals and produced to resemble real rice grains. The Ultra Rice grains are then mixed with local, natural rice supplies to significantly boost their nutritional value.
The product aids those around the world suffering from micronutrient deficiencies, of which the United Nations World Food Program says there are 2 billion.
"I think really understanding the consumer impulse … is critically important, rather than just imagining that we're going to build drab or utilitarian tools, because that's not very exciting to consumers, regardless of their income level," Shoultz said.