December 13, 2013 | The Editors

What support for R&D can do

A smiling health worker reaches for three vials of vaccine.
A circle on vaccine vial labels turns color to indicate when the vaccine has been exposed to damaging heat. Photo: PATH/Umit Kartogulu.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the nation’s lead foreign assistance agency. Throughout its 50-year history, USAID has worked with other government agencies, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations to support the development and introduction of affordable health products appropriate for addressing diseases and health issues in developing countries.

Our colleagues at the Global Health Technologies Coalition have launched a new blog series highlighting the impact of USAID’s commitment to global health research and development (R&D). Today, Ted Prusik, senior vice president of Temptime, a New Jersey-based company that has made a huge impact in global health with support from USAID, answers a few questions.

Q: Temptime has a long history of working with USAID to improve global health.  How did this partnership begin, and what have been some of the global health research successes you’ve achieved with USAID support?

Temptime’s history is a wonderful case study on the effectiveness of US investments in efforts to solve critical global health problems. In the early 1980s, Temptime (then called Lifelines) developed a unique technology that gradually changes color when exposed to time and temperature. The original idea was to use this unique chemistry for food spoilage applications.

At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO), USAID, and the global health nonprofit PATH identified a pressing need to improve the effectiveness of immunization programs in the developing world. Vaccines are heat sensitive. Exposure to excessive heat can result in the loss of efficacy, leaving children who are vaccinated with heat-damaged vaccines vulnerable to disease. But vaccines are stable enough to withstand some exposure to heat. Immunization program managers faced the following issues:

  • How to better protect children from receiving a heat-damaged vaccine that was no longer efficacious?
  • How to prevent the wastage that is common in immunization programs when health care workers presume that a vaccine is heat damaged even when it is not?

USAID, WHO, and PATH recognized that the answer was a time-temperature indicator, put on each unit of vaccine, that would clearly signal when the vaccine had been exposed to a predetermined heat load. The technology that Temptime was working to develop for the food industry was a potential solution for this application: scientifically based, predictable, easy to read, and cost-effective.

The application of the Temptime technology to the need identified by USAID, WHO, and PATH resulted in the development of the vaccine vial monitor, or VVM, specifically designed for oral polio vaccine. The VVM is a small circular indicator that is applied on each vial of vaccine and clearly indicates whether or not that specific vial has been exposed to excessive heat.

Read more on Breakthroughs, the blog of the Global Health Technologies Coalition.

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