Saving Lives at Birth

Michelle McIntosh: We’d been working on the project at Monash for probably two to three years prior to receiving funding from ‘Saving Lives at Birth’.

Louise Ho: It’s a real privilege to be able to get out of bed in the morning and come to work for a cause. We’re hugely excited about it.

Gemma Nassta: You realize that your project is much more than just a project; it’s got impact.

Tomas Sou: It feels like you’re almost creating history.

Jibriil Ibrahim: It’s difficult to wrap your head around this idea that you’re working on a project that, at the end, the result is going to save people’s lives.

Dr Michelle McIntosh: Postpartum haemorrhage is uncontrolled bleeding after childbirth. It’s a common condition that occurs but can be managed extremely well in developed countries with good access to medical infrastructure. At the moment, up to 150 000 women die per year due to childbirth-related complications, and so about half of those would be as a consequence of postpartum haemorrhage. The gold standard treatment for postpartum haemorrhage is oxytocin. Oxytocin needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Many times I’ve spoken to midwives and they’ll say they’ve administered oxytocin to a woman after childbirth but it hasn’t worked, and it’s probably because the drug’s degraded in the process. It was Richard Prankerd, a colleague here at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Richard said “I’ve always had in the back of my mind that we could deliver oxytocin via the lungs”. I got an email from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to say that there’s a new program being offered called ‘Saving Lives at Birth’ and it’s a funding program with a group of funding agencies to try and find solutions for maternal and neonatal health. Many women in developing countries, for cultural or social reasons, will give birth at home. What we’ve proposed in our ‘Saving Lives at Birth’ application is that we can take oxytocin and prepare it in a different formulation so that that same drug that we know it’s safe and we know it’s effective, we can provide that in a form that a patient could have at home ready after childbirth to pick it up and then just breathe the dose in.

Professor William Charman: The team that has been assembled come together for this one purpose of being able to design, to implement, and then make available this potentially very important new medicine for mothers in the developing world.

Pete Lambert: That disparity between what’s available to us, the privileged in the developed world, against those people that just happen to be in the developing world I think is a real driver and a motivator for wanting to be involved in this project. And specifically this area of exploiting drug delivery technologies to enable the delivery of medicines that we take for granted in the developed world to those who otherwise wouldn’t get them is an area which is completely underutilized. Just the simple fact that people don’t have power, they don’t have refrigeration, and they don’t have the skills that allow a drug to be delivered by injection, should that really prevent them getting the benefits of that drug? And it needn’t be so.

Dr Michelle McIntosh: The medicines exist, we know they can save lives, we have to find a way to deliver them. We know that children in developing countries without a mother are more likely to die before the age of five than children who have a mother, and so we’re really hoping that this product will benefit not just women but it’ll benefit their families and their communities. The people that I got to meet during the development exchange in (Washington) D.C. last year; they were so incredibly inspirational. Meeting Hilary Clinton was a seminal moment for the project. It’s always been good science, but things just skyrocketed after that. I got an invitation from the World Health Organisation, contact from pharmaceutical companies, interactions with non-government organisations; it’s exactly what this project needs – input from multiple players. The funding from ‘Saving Lives at Birth’ is enabling me to develop those networks.

Professor William Charman: We’re uniquely placed to be able to bring together the technology skill sets, importantly the people with the passion to drive the program going forward, and to make the linkages both within the Institute as well as our broader partner network to enable this medicine to be developed as rapidly as possible.

Dr Michelle McIntosh: The world’s waiting; they need this product.