Newsworthy Wednesday: A Vaccination Revolution?

This is a paper I composed for my social entrepreneurship class, but I found the technology so fascinating that I thought I would share it with you all. I’m hoping that this innovation will bring a vast amount of positive change to our world.

Over 50 percent of the world’s population is currently living in poverty, and an additional 1.3 billion individuals live in extreme poverty, not including 2.1 billion children – that means a majority of the world lives on less than $1.25 a day. Due to these living conditions, numerous families, especially those living in developing or poorer countries, typically cannot afford and lack access to proper healthcare, immunizations, and vaccinations. On an annual basis, nearly 20 million individuals die due to infectious diseases such as influenza and malaria because they are not able to receive the proper vaccinations to protect themselves and their family members and lack the knowledge of how to properly treat and combat these illnesses. Because of the rapid onset of symptoms of these diseases and because they are highly contagious (and can spread through these impoverished regions quickly), these markets have required vaccinations that can be delivered and administered both efficiently and cheaply. The potential obstacle in achieving reception with this target market is that because these individuals are not usually exposed to modern medicine, they would need to understand and even witness the proven benefits of a groundbreaking technology. This would require in-person demonstrations and mass campaigns to aid in the understanding of newer forms of medicine and medical devices.

On a separate note, a vast amount of individuals choose not to receive vaccinations due to needle phobia. This fear also contributes to the deaths of millions more each year because they refuse to be immunized or vaccinated – and as for those individuals that do receive vaccinations, over 1.3 million of them die annually due to contamination of needles. On the whole, the healthcare industry could greatly benefit from a solution that can achieve widespread and painless distribution. That being said, the healthcare industry is on the brink of a revolution thanks to the creation of the Nanopatch. As a professor and biomedical engineer, Mark Kendall had a goal to bring a low-cost and effective delivery method of immunization to developing nations to prevent those millions of deaths that occur every year due to infectious diseases. Cue the Nanopatch. After a decade of brainstorming and research, Kendall built the Nanopatch from his knowledge of computer chip technology, in which he devised a brand new vaccination process. Because of its innovative technology, the Nanopatch consists of a patch no bigger than the size of a fingertip, in which the patch is coated with thousands of vaccine-covered microscopic spikes. In this way, the value of the Nanopatch is high and above current medical and health-related technologies as the inoculant can be placed under an individual’s skin without the pain or risk of a needle delivery. More than just the pain-free delivery, the Nanopatch utilizes vaccines in their dried form, which eliminates the necessity of cold chain refrigeration that vaccines currently require (which also places limitations on the environments and landscapes said vaccinations can be brought to or left in as it is incredibly costly to maintain this refrigeration in rural areas). Lastly, the Nanopatch can be manufactured for less than one dollar and uses less than one percent of the currently required standard vaccination dose (vaccine in its liquid form). In this way, Kendall has illustrated some understanding of his target market, realizing that many of them live in environments that are non-sterile and exposed to the elements such as high levels of heat or rain or dust. In this way, the design of the Nanopatch ensures the application of the device will not be compromised, even in more deprived areas.

Growing up in Queensland, Australia, Mark Kendall quickly developed an interest in science. Graduating from the University of Queensland and working as a lecturer at Oxford University expanded his personal network, where he realized how much he wanted to integrate his knowledge of rocket science with the healthcare of developing nations. Working with his colleagues at Oxford, Kendall developed a rocket gun that could insert powdered vaccine into a person’s skin, which ultimately was named the PowderJect. It served as not only the first stepping stone towards the Nanopatch, but it also illustrated that Kendall’s innovations had great value, as Pfizer ended up purchasing the technology behind the PowderJect for over $400 million. In 2006, Kendall returned to Australia and became a professor at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at his alma mater the University of Queensland, where he worked with a team to test the Nanopatch on animals. However, he knew he needed a way to expand the product. Alongside fellow investors, Kendall co-founded his company Vaxxas in 2011, in which he worked with his team to garner research funding that now totals approximately $40 million. Due to a network that spans international borders, Kendall was able to attract interest and investment, and in 2012, he became a Rolex Laureate that allowed him to begin field testing on humans in Papua New Guinea where the Nanopatch is currently being used to vaccinate individuals for the human papilloma virus (HPV). Because Papua New Guinea mirrors a developing nation, it proved to be a wise kickoff point, especially as Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of HPV and one of the highest rates of cervical cancer (primarily caused by HPV) in the world, with over 1,500 women dying every year from cervical cancer throughout the region, and hundreds of thousands more dying each year throughout the rest of the world.

However, the greatest obstacle that stands in the way of achieving success and obtaining the proper resources is this: advances in modern medicine usually take years to reach the most destitute areas of the world – yet those are the exact areas that Kendall seeks to reach. Simply because Kendall designed a truly innovative advancement in medicine does not equate to the automatic penetration of the pyramid markets, the people living under the most impoverished conditions. While Kendall and his team are extraordinary innovators and engineers, he and his team lack experience in marketing and constructing campaigns that could reach and connect with emerging nations, especially as many individuals living in those areas also have not received the proper amount of education. With this product being a revolutionary device, the learning curve regarding the benefits of the Nanopatch will need to be covered in an apt amount of time and be relatable to the needs of the emerging middle class as well as the base of those pyramid markets. Not only that, but marketing campaigns and strategies, especially when trying to reach mass markets, are tremendously expensive. And developing countries are just that: mass markets.

On average, the marketing expenses for new medical devices cost upwards of 40 percent of revenues for said devices, meaning that it is crucial that Kendall and his team utilize a consulting group or a knowledgeable individual that has a wealthy amount of information regarding developing markets and the most cost effective ways to market to those targets. More importantly, Kendall and his team need to construct a strategy that focuses on word-of-mouth and a grass roots kind of marketing. As previously stated, individuals at the base of the pyramid tend to be illiterate, meaning more well-known tactics such as flyers or pamphlets would be useless in reaching these markets. In taking the Nanopatch to these areas, Kendall and his partners need to increase awareness of their presence so that the groups in villages or communities or other rural areas will talk amongst one another and generate attention towards the Nanopatch through a more verbal means of marketing. In order to scale the Nanopatch and transform the product into a formative company and established brand, the marketing efforts need to be strengthened – essentially, more time and more resources need to be dedicated not only to research, but also to a pricing strategy and channel management, especially if Kendall also plans to distribute these devices through out-of-hospital means (which is fairly typical in developing markets where distribution channels are not frequently established).

What Kendall now has in his favor (thanks to the increased awareness of the Nanopatch in modernized areas such as the United States) is the ability to raise and receive commercial and research funding. Ironically, Kendall’s initial hurdle in 2003, a time when the Nanopatch was merely an idea and prototype, was acquiring interest and research funding. But as aforementioned, he has built a widespread personal network that spans throughout the United Kingdom as well as his company Vaxxas and a licensing partnership with Merck & Co., which he could use to his advantage. Furthermore, Kendall has met with individuals at Harvard University, connected with the World Health Organization (WHO), and is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Group, a committee under the WHO that has a goal of putting the Nanopatch on the fast track to reach the poorest regions of the world. With a multitude of enterprises invested in this product, big time companies such as Merck and Co. have a stake in Nanopatch’s success on a global scale, meaning that these vested interests would be willing to put up the funds necessary to market the Nanopatch and give Kendall and his team the ability to globally distribute this innovation. This same situation occurred with Echo Therapeutics, a company that developed a non-invasive glucose monitor (again, along the pain-free spectrum) for those afflicted with diabetes, and due to the leadership team’s connections, they were able to gain over $20 million in financing to market the product on an international level. In a similar fashion, Kendall and his team could utilize medical grants such as from the National Science Foundation; similar to the process he went through during his application to become a Rolex Laureate.

In terms of the operating environment for the Nanopatch, while it is still under testing in Australia and being prepped for international testing, a major concern is the cost of vaccines. As stated previously, individuals in developing countries typically survive on less than two dollars a day, meaning certain vaccinations, including the newly developed HPV vaccine, tend to be unaffordable in those regions. However, if Kendall can utilize his partnerships wisely and scale the Nanopatch, those expensive costs of vaccinations will essentially be stripped away and could be used to treat numerous other infectious diseases such as herpes and the West Nile virus, and numerous medications could be available to those not only in emerging markets, but also to those stationed at the bottom of the pyramid. Even more so, the Nanopatch could be used to tackle diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, two diseases responsible for over seven million deaths every year. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 218 million individuals are living in extreme poverty, with over 34 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS. This area has an extremely dense population, meaning individuals live in very close quarters and are concentrated throughout certain regions, mainly Eastern and Southern Africa.

While Kendall is not in this for the profits, his breakthrough can be pushed to the developing market through the power of pharmaceutical and medical giants such as Pfizer, Roche, and a current licensor Merck, a company that reached nearly $1.8 billion in profits in 2013. These companies have the resources to put Kendall in touch with local connections, from the doctors operating in new hospitals being built throughout India to the volunteers and Red Cross members operating in rural areas of Sierra Leone, Somalia, and more. In this way, these critical resources close to the groups that would benefit from the Nanopatch most can share their knowledge of these markets and further aid in the modification of the Nanopatch from a product to a worldwide, accepted brand that is used to treat the infectious diseases that afflict the individuals existing in the pyramid markets most. These local networks can improve the growth of the Nanopatch by helping the aforementioned groups understand how this innovation can improve their health and overall well-being.

Mark Kendall’s decade long process of bringing the Nanopatch to market has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry and positively impact populations and markets on a global scale. Through his vast network, he can procure the necessary resources to allow the Nanopatch to reach even the base of the pyramid markets. However, this process will not be without obstacles. As Kendall himself has little experience in mass marketing, others on his team or within his alliances can aid in these endeavors by finding groups or individuals or facilities that coexist or understand the more impoverished areas of the world and how they best relate to new advances in modern medicine as well as the most effective ways to encourage reception of those new advances.

Comments

  1. No updates on the nanopatch for over a year now since Mark Kendall sold out to Merck!!

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