High Concept

Syringe rhymes with cringe, a poetic coincidence not lost on those who get wobbly even thinking about their annual flu shot. But relief is within sight. A new category of medical devices aims to take the pain out of administering medications and vaccines by substituting speed for sharpness.

The most advanced of several options on the market is the Biojector 2000, a product that uses the force of a burst of carbon dioxide unleashed from a small cartridge to deliver drugs into a patient's muscle. A health-care professional simply holds the device -- which has a cylindrical nozzle like the one on a garden hose -- against a patient's skin and pushes a button. A fine spray of medicine in liquid form then shoots out the front of the Biojector 2000 at 520 miles per hour. The medicine travels fast enough to create a minuscule hole -- no wider than one four-thousandth of an inch -- in the skin. The density of the patient's skin and muscle slows the drug's progress, allowing it to be dispersed throughout the body in a wide spiderweb pattern, thereby hastening its effect. There is little pain, little room for error, and no likelihood that an accidental needle prick will spread germs to the clinician.

The Biojector 2000 is the only needle-free device to have earned Food and Drug Administration clearance to deliver drugs into the muscle. More than 30 organizations are currently using it, including the U.S. Navy, which is researching a malaria vaccine, and the New York City public school system, which is inoculating students against hepatitis.

A fine spray of medicine in liquid form shoots out of the Biojector 2000 at 520 mph.

Bioject Medical Technologies Inc., which makes the device, is a 17-year-old business based in Portland, Oreg. Investors hope the company will grow from $2 million in sales in fiscal year 2001 to $4 million or $5 million in fiscal year 2002. Deals with pharmaceutical makers to package the Biojector 2000 with specific drugs -- including those being used in clinical trials -- give it a clear advantage over some competing devices, says Bioject CEO Jim O'Shea.

The company's prospects are enhanced by the Cool.click injector -- a sister product to the Biojector 2000 that is designed for patients to use on themselves. Befitting its consumer-product orientation, the Cool.click comes in red, yellow, and Kermit the Frog green and is ready to be filled with a type of human growth hormone for children. Kids "wildly prefer the Cool.click to the needle," O'Shea says. (The Biojector can also be rendered child-friendly with an attachment that makes the device look like a googly-eyed elephant.)

Investment types like the products, too. Michael Hearle, an equity-research analyst at Boston-based Leerink Swann & Co., took a trial shot and reports that it felt "like someone flicking your arm with their finger." Subsequently, Hearle recommended Bioject stock to investors. The potential result: a painless infusion of capital.


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