Inside lab developing EpiPen alternative

A look at what it will take for tiny tablet to become a reality

HOUSTON – George Tokesky has always been healthy, so it was surprising to him when he suddenly developed food allergies seven years ago.

"I was covered with hives. My lips began to swell and my throat began to close," Tokesky said.

Tests showed Tokesky is now allergic to both shellfish and milk protein. Like millions of adults and children, he needs to keep an EpiPen close by.

But for Tokesky, who likes to travel and have adventures, the EpiPen is cumbersome and not user friendly.

So what if a tablet could one day replace the needle? That's exactly what researchers at Nova Southeastern University have been working on for five years. They have created a tablet that disintegrates in 10 to 15 seconds, sending lifesaving epinephrine into the bloodstream.

"We had to go through a series of studies where we converted the drug into nanocrystals, so that the drug becomes extremely soluable in a small amount of saliva," Dr. Mutasem Rawas-Qalaji said.

The research team has already met with the Food and Drug Administration and plans to start human trials as soon as possible.

"They are going to touch a lot of people and improve the quality of life for a lot of patients," Rawas-Qalaji said.

It could make a big difference for Tokesky.

"The ability to be put in my wallet or something I will carry and take it with me without having to remember to take it with me will be a blessing," he said.

The pharmaceutical research team is also working on smaller tablets for children, ones that have an appealing color and taste, which would be a welcome alternative to a needle.