Researchers look to make lifesaving drug inhalable

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HONG KONG -- A hormone treatment based on technology used in Pfizer Inc.'s failed inhalable insulin shows promise in fighting the leading cause of maternal mortality.

Six years after Pfizer pulled Exubera from the market at a cost of more than $2.8 billion, scientists at Melbourne's Monash University are revisiting the inhalable technology to deliver a lifesaving medicine to stop post-delivery hemorrhage.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is backing the effort to produce a better way to give oxytocin, a brain chemical that helps the uterus contract after birth and is sometimes referred to as the "love hormone" because of its role in orgasm and bonding.

The lead scientist for the project, Michelle McIntosh, says her group plans to start testing a dry-powdered form of oxytocin by early 2014. Patton's company, Dance Biopharm Inc., is working on an inhaled insulin, as is Mannkind Corp., the biotech company founded by billionaire investor Alfred Mann.

Inhalations may not only avoid unpleasant injections. In the case of oxytocin, the need for refrigerated storage and sterile needles has limited the hormone's use in Africa, where postpartum hemorrhage, the primary cause of almost a quarter of maternal deaths globally, is most frequent. Inhalers get around that problem.

"The injection works extremely well," said McIntosh in a telephone interview. "But in some parts of the world, the injection just isn't always available."

Used preventively, oxytocin can cut the rate of post- delivery bleeding complications by half by causing muscles in the uterus to contract, closing off damaged blood vessels.McIntosh's group plans to start testing their product in 18 healthy volunteers in Australia by early next year, she said.

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