It is a memory that still brings Charlie Thiel to tears. Back in 1995, he met an elderly Australian doctor who suffered from asthma. “He gave me a bear hug and told me, ‘Charlie, if it weren't for your invention, I would be dead.’ It just blew me away.” For Thiel, it was the moment in which he fully understood the impact of his life’s work.
In 1956, Charlie Thiel was on a three-person team at Riker Pharmaceuticals (now 3M Drug Delivery Systems) that invented the first pressurized metered dose inhaler. In many respects, the introduction of the MDI marked the beginning of the modern pharmaceutical aerosol industry. The history of inhalation technology dates back much further than the fifties.
The delivery of therapeutic vapors and aerosols via inhalation has been used for thousands of years in various cultures. The first known reference to therapeutic aerosol delivery is an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll dating back to approximately 1554 BC which purportedly was discovered between the legs of a mummy. This papyrus describes having patients struggling to inhale the vapor formed when black henbane plants were placed onto hot bricks.
Over the centuries, discoveries from many cultures have advanced the delivery of therapeutic aerosols. For thousands of years, therapeutic aerosols were prepared by the patient or a physician with direct oversight of the patient using custom-made delivery systems. However, starting with the Industrial Revolution, advancements in manufacturing resulted in the bulk production of therapeutic aerosol delivery systems produced by people completely disconnected from contact with the patient. This trend continued and accelerated in the twentieth century with the mass commercialization of modern pharmaceutical inhaler products.
Fast forward to the year 2017. Today everything is going digital, including inhalers.
To improve patient competence, the 3M™ Intelligent Control Inhaler visually instructs patients how to use it and helps ensure they receive the proper dose. It also links to digital devices to set reminders and review their usage to improve adherence to their medication regime. For a world of patients now connected to their smartphones, this connected inhaler is the next big step in providing consistent and proper delivery of asthma and COPD medications. It is a step that could improve their overall health and save lives.
For Charlie Thiel, he is amazed at the progress he’s seen over the course of his career. Along with improved drug delivery technology, he predicts newer drugs will continue to make life better for patients. Over the next 20 years, he says, “Human ingenuity and creativity will do great things for us.”