Ellipta supply chain

Inhaler innovation: more than a simple piece of plastic

At first glance, an inhaler may look like a simple piece of plastic.  But inside, a complicated process and an internal ‘engine’ operate seamlessly to ensure the patient receives exactly the right dose of medicine every time.

Most of us will know someone who suffers from asthma and uses an inhaler regularly to control their condition. Inhalers are also used to treat other respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These two diseases affect around 242 million and 329 million people respectively, worldwide.

Today’s inhalers are the result of decades of research, design and cutting-edge engineering. They’re one of medicine’s great inventions, and we have a long heritage in the area starting in the 1960s when we first began making inhalers at our Ware site in Hertfordshire, UK.

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Inhalers being manufactured
elipta manufacturing
Inhalers being manufactured

The press-and-breathe inhaler, also known as a Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI), is a pressurised device that propels the medicine into a patient’s lungs using a propellant spray. Using this technology, we created the familiar ’boot-shaped’ inhaler in 1969, as a treatment for asthma.

Over the subsequent decades, hundreds of our scientists and engineers continued to research and innovate, to create a series of dry powder inhalers (DPIs), including the Diskus™ inhaler.

In the early 2000s, as our respiratory pipeline of once-daily medicines started to enter late-stage clinical trials, our scientists and engineers began work designing one, single inhaler that would have the capability to deliver our entire range of once-daily medicines. 

More than 200 scientists and engineers were involved in the research, design and manufacture of our Ellipta® inhaler, a dry powder inhaler (DPI).  This inhaler was launched in 2013, as the common device for our new range of respiratory medicines. It allows one or two medicines to be taken via one inhaler.

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Inhalers being manufactured

But what are some of the factors that need to be considered when we develop an inhaler?

What are the design and engineering challenges?

Above all, an inhaler needs to be to be suitable for patients regardless of the size of their hands, whether they have full or limited movement in their hands, or however severe their disease. Innovative engineering is needed to ensure consistency in the dose of medicine from the inhaler each time  a patient uses their inhaler - regardless of the severity of their disease, their lung function and any affect on their ability to ‘breathe in’.

At GSK, we continue to innovate and advance the science in this field, and are committed to being at the forefront of inhaler technology. 

Not bad for a simple piece of plastic.

Diskus ™ and Ellipta® inhaler are trademarks of the GlaxoSmithKline group of companies.