There’s a pretty simple idea at the heart of Pennsylvania-based biopharma firm OptiNose: plenty of perfectly good drugs just aren’t living up to their full potential, thanks to a lack of innovation in drug delivery tech.
OptiNose’s flagship device is striving to be a better mouse trap of sorts, according to the company, and has the potential to be a boon to patients suffering from chronic sinusitis—an uncomfortable inflammatory nasal condition that can make it hard to sleep and could require surgery that may not be all that effective.
The product takes the concept behind a traditional inhaler and turns it into a two-pronged system, with one end going into a patient’s nose and the other into his or her mouth. Since the nasal cavity gets blocked off while you’re breathing out (thanks to the mechanisms of the soft palate), the device essentially delivers the medication higher up into a hostage nostril, increasing the amount that gets quickly absorbed (and thereby also reducing the required dosage).
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That’s not really the case in a traditional inhaler. “Less than 50% of drug you’re trying to get in the nose actually gets to beyond the nasal valve,” OptiNose CEO Peter Miller told Fortune in an interview. “And the 50% that gets beyond the nasal valve tends to go to the floor of the nose because the airways are connected and eventually makes it down to the stomach.”
And if half of an inhaled drug winds up in your stomach, why not just take a pill, Miller asks?
OptiNose isn’t exactly creating brand new drugs. It’s taking ones that already exist and have regulatory clearance and trying to give them an extra oomph. That’s especially smart from a business standpoint, since it drives down development costs (although creating a new medical device is by no means cheap) by mitigating safety concerns. The company won its first Food and Drug Administration approval alongside partner Avanir for the migraine treatment Onzetra in January of this year.
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Meanwhile, its experimental sinusitis treatment product has shown promising results in late-stage trials. OptiNose is also working in other therapeutic spaces where its technology might show promise such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.