By Eric Peterson | Jun 01, 2015
Needle-free injection technology
While traveling overseas, PharmaJet founder Kathy Callender "realized there was a big problem with needles" in the developing world, says Lowy. "She saw needles being used and re-used."
Back in the U.S., injuries from unintentional needle sticks and other healthcare worker's accidents represent a $3 billion annual problem. "It happens more frequently than you would believe," says Lowy. Another domestic issue: a quarter of the American population is needle-phobic, leading them to dodge vaccinations and booster shots.
A dental hygienist and orthodontist's wife, Callender came home and started the company in a space above her garage to develop a solution to these problems. A decade later, the R&D phase is over and PharmaJet is coming to market with a new take on vaccinations.
The company's innovation is a needle-less injector that eliminates needle issues. "Essentially, it provides a precise stream of vaccine that's less than the width of a human hair," says Lowy, and the self-contained device delivers it to the exact depth necessary to enter the bloodstream, just like a syringe -- but no stick required. He says the exact particulars of the technology are a "trade secret."
The company has slowly snowballed from startup to "uh-oh phase," Lowy says. "They started fishing from a rowboat and catching some whales."
It follows that Lowy, who previously worked for GE Medical and other device manufacturers, took the reins as PharmaJet CEO in late 2013 as the company staffed up for an ambitious product launch this year. "We brought in some top-notch people to take this from hobby into the marketplace," he says.
Approving PharmaJet's injector in September 2014, the Food and Drug Administration deemed it "as good or better than a needle and syringe," says Lowy. Because it's "basically mechanically driven," no electricity is required, he adds.
PharmaJet's research has revealed 90 percent of those receiving a needle-free shot like it, as do 90 percent of healthcare workers, says Lowy. The needles proved popular in the company's studies. At one, it was so popular it was hard to determine exactly how many people preferred it to a syringe. "We ran out after two hours," says Lowy.
Phillips-Medisize is manufacturing the devices in Wisconsin for PharmaJet. Lowy calls the company "world-class."
The device is available right now, but the big market push is coming later in 2015. "It will be widely available come next flu season," says Lowy. Pharmacies and occupational health professionals are the target markets.
Considering that there are about 150 millions flu shots in a given year -- and billions worldwide -- he's not using the term widely lightly.
Lowy gives credit to PharmaJet's employees. "That's who makes it happen," he says.
Challenges: "The biggest challenge is just getting the message out there," says Lowy. "We're a relatively small company but we have a pretty intense marketing plan." He says that "literally thousands” of potential clients expressed interest during a recent telemarketing campaign.
Opportunities: International growth. "We have a partnership with the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world . . . the Serum Institute," says Lowy.
Lowy also sees plenty of room to grow with vaccines for maladies other than the flu. "We're investing in additional vaccine studies and additional FDA approvals."
Needs: "We're clearly expanding both our sales and marketing functions," says Lowy. He expects the company to hire an additional 10 employees "soon."