More than 300,000 women die each year in low and low-middle income countries. These deaths occur during childbirth or pregnancy and are primarily related to postpartum hemorrhage (PPH).
The key element to preventing PPH is a drug called oxytocin, which is highly recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Oxytocin is a human peptide hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, regulating sexual reproduction and social interaction. However, there are two barriers that make it difficult to administer it safely in low and low-middle income countries. One it requires refrigeration and to administer it a skilled medical professional is required, both are most often not available.
A team of researchers from MIPS partnered with GlaxoSmithKline, who also sponsored the study, to address the unmet need. An inhalable, dry-powder form of oxytocin is in the development stage.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa announced the results of the first in-human trial of the new formulation on March 21.
A small group of women, who were not pregnant, volunteered for the study. The findings revealed the inhaled oxytocin effects were similar to the injected version. The researchers are confident that the inhaled version of oxytocin will achieve similar results in post-delivery to prevent PPH.
Main author and associate professor at MIPS, Michelle McIntosh, said that this first in-human data offers hop to the many women in resource-constrained settings, who do not currently have access to essential medicine.
“These results show that oxytocin can be delivered similarly via inhalation or injection and therefore we are less likely to be required to conduct the extensive and costly trials needed for an entirely new drug. Instead, we should be able to move forward with trials on a much smaller scale, featuring patients numbering in the hundreds rather than tens of thousands, potentially making the medicine available much sooner,” McIntosh said.