Researchers working on alternative to EpiPen

By Meaghan St Pierre - Producer

George Tokesky has always been healthy and was surprised when seven years ago he suddenly developed food allergies.

"I was covered with hives, my lips began to swell and my throat began to close," Tokesky said.

Tests showed Tokesky is allergic to both shellfish and milk protein. Like millions of adults and children in the U.S., he needs to keep an EpiPen close by in case he has an allergic reaction. 

However, for Tokesky, who likes to travel and is into adventure, the EpiPen is cumbersome and not user-friendly.

Researchers at Nova Southeastern University have been working for five years on a pill that might be an alternative to the EpiPen. It's a tablet that disintegrates in 10 to 15 seconds sending lifesaving epinephrine into the bloodstream.

"Epinephrine is most potent when it's directly injected into a blood vessel. That's what we do when someone’s heart stops, but to treat allergies, we typically inject the epinephrine subcutaneously, that means just under the skin. That's what an EpiPen is designed to do automatically," Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge said.

"We had to go through a series of studies where we converted the drug into nanocrystals, so that the drug becomes extremely soluble in a small amount of saliva," said Dr. Mutasem Rawas-Qalaji of the NSU College of Pharmacy.

The research team has already met with the Food and Drug Administration and plans to start human trials as soon as possible.

"They are going to touch a lot of people and improve the quality of life for a lot of patients," Rawas-Qalaji said.

The research team is also working on smaller tablets for children, with a pleasant color and taste. 

"The idea of giving Epinephrine or other medications without a needle isn't new.  For example, the antidote for heroin overdoses, naloxone, is now commonly being administered in the nose instead of by injection.  What's unique about this research is the creation of the epinephrine nanocrystals that might be able to deliver the same dose a needle," McGeorge said.

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