Skip to navigation Skip to content


Elijah Nazarzadeh Acu-Flow

Making waves in drug delivery…

Elijah Nazarzadeh  Acu-Flow

Making waves in drug delivery

From paintball guns and fuel-injection engines to nebulisers and inhalers may seem like a big step to make, but Elijah Nazarzadeh likes a challenge and is currently leading the commercialisation of an innovative drug-delivery solution which he believes will not only benefit patients by increasing treatment efficiency and lowering costs but also enable pharmaceutical companies to deliver a new generation of drugs...

The science may be complex, but Elijah Nazarzadeh has a simple objective in his latest business venture. Using a new technology which takes advantage of surface acoustic waves (SAWs) to deliver drugs to sufferers from lung disease could have a major impact on millions of patients all over the world, and Nazarzadeh is determined to turn this vision into a reality.

“The burden of respiratory diseases is huge,” he says, “and I want to see more people get global access to treatments that improve their quality of life, by making drug delivery solutions more affordable and more efficient.”

The new technology, called Acu-Flow (see at end of article), offers several advantages over existing devices to deliver drugs to the lungs, including lower-costs , but the major benefit is the ability to control the dispersion and size of the aerosol droplets and therefore “increase their delivery efficiency.” Droplets sized from one to five micrometers can deliver drugs deep inside the lungs, but larger droplets can get stuck in the mouth and throat, whilst smaller ones may be exhaled before they have the chance to be absorbed in the lung.

Sounding out the market

While the technology continues to evolve, one of the most important aspects of development is engaging with clinicians and pharmaceutical companies, to understand what they need and how the product may be able to help them. The market research carried out by Nazarzadeh has been partly funded by Innovate UK and has been a major influence on Acu-Flow.

“We had an initial idea of what the technology could achieve but we wanted to understand the problems faced by the industry, including clinicians, nurses and patients, and discover if there’s a market for our kind of product,” Nazarzadeh explains. “Current methods tend to be inefficient and expensive (nebulisers can cost up to £600 per unit), and many nebulisers and inhalers only deliver a small percentage of the drug to the patient, in many cases as little as 30%. This can lead to significant wastage and also restrict the use of more expensive pharmaceuticals.”

Many patients struggle to use nebulisers at home, while some models can also be too big or awkward to carry around. Maintenance can also be a burden, Nazarzadeh suggests. For example, a patient with cystic fibrosis may need to take three different drugs every day, using nebulisers for 15–20 minutes, up to six times a day – then spend another 15–20 minutes cleaning the nozzle in between treatments. This is not just time-consuming, he adds, but can also be stressful.

In addition, many pharmaceutical companies say they’re unable to deliver new drugs, including “very fragile biologics,” because existing nebulisers aren’t up to the job. With personalised medicine becoming increasingly common, many gene-based therapies will also require new drug-delivery solutions, customised for the particular drug.

Acu-Flow, says Nazarzadeh, offers “global access” for patients with respiratory disorders. It is also a low-maintenance, low-power, low-cost solution which is portable and easy to clean, and some of the components are “simple disposables.” But the unique selling point, he stresses, is the ability to control the size of the droplets. Some competitive products offer similar advantages, including low power, but critically they can’t control the size of the droplets – and that is precisely where Acu-Flow still has the edge.

“Improvements in inhalation technology would make a huge difference to millions of people,” says Nazarzadeh. “And Acu-Flow could also deliver the next generation of drugs.”

Seeking investment

The research team behind Acu-Flow is initially looking to raise seed funding to develop the technology and demonstrate the product. They currently have translational funding from the medical and engineering research councils to generate clinical data. One aim is to show that existing formulations that currently can’t be delivered efficiently using existing devices can be delivered better using Acu-Flow. In partnership with several pharmaceutical companies, they also plan to carry out a series of trials to generate the data for new drugs coming into the new drugs discovery pipeline.

“Collaboration with partners in the pharmaceutical industry is critical, as we need to co-develop the product and tap their specialist knowledge,” Nazarzadeh explains. The trials could also mean that new drugs will come onto the market which otherwise may have been left on the shelf.

Next year, Acu-Flow will try to raise further funding to commercialise the product and bring it to market, which should take another three years. A total of five years may seem like a long time to wait, but most investors will confirm that this is needed to develop, regulate and commercialise an innovative healthcare solution. Investors and industry partners will drive the business forward in the short term, but other drug delivery product suppliers may also help – and this may boost the profile of the company and also enable an exit for early investors. For Nazarzadeh, however, the focus for now is on getting the product to market and seeing it benefit patients.

Nazarzadeh has also done a lot of market research on surface acoustic waves nebulisation and last year he won an Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) grant “to explore the commercial potential of the new technology.”

As an RSE Unlocking Ambition Fellow since July 2018, Nazarzadeh now also has the opportunity to sharpen his entrepreneurial skills, learning from some of the most experienced business people in the UK: “The Fellowship provides an opportunity to deliver a sustainable business plan – and change many people’s lives all around the world.”

“For the last year, I’ve been talking to potential investors and partners,” says Nazarzadeh, “to identify their requirements and develop our business plan accordingly. I thought I knew it all after a couple of months, but as time goes by, I realise how much I still have to learn, as the business evolves.”

Does Nazarzadeh see himself as CEO or CTO of the new company? “I would be happy in either role,” he answers. “As the business becomes more established, different skills will be needed and more people will join us, but no matter how the company grows in the future, I just want to make sure it happens.”

Every time Nazarzadeh goes back to work in the research lab, he soon finds that he's itching to get back to business. “To deliver what I started is my passion,” he says. “Acu-Flow is not just a challenge in terms of the science, but also a challenge in terms of the business, learning something new all the time.” For Nazarzadeh, the challenge ahead will be all about bringing the product to market and making sure the business is successful, and this will also satisfy his altruistic instincts – if the business prospers, then patients will get better treatments. “I just want to see people benefit from our product,” he says, “and by combining our new technology with gene therapy and other novel drugs, then we can also help to shape the future of medicine.”


About Acu-Flow

Acu-Flow – a spin-out company developing a novel pulmonary drug-delivery technology which enables precision therapeutics for established drugs and future gene therapy treatments.


Lung diseases: the challenge

• In the UK, someone dies of lung disease every five minutes – about 115,000 people every year, including 30,000 deaths from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), 1,200 deaths from asthma and 100 deaths from cystic fibrosis. Together, this accounts for about 20% of all deaths.

• Approximately one in five people in the UK has suffered from asthma, COPD or another long-term respiratory illness, and half of them are currently receiving treatment – mainly via inhalers. About eight million people in the UK have been diagnosed with asthma and 1.2 million with COPD.

• Inhalation is the most efficient non-invasive way of delivering drugs to the body. When the droplets reach the lungs, there are fewer undesired side effects and the drug goes direct to the infected local area. The effectiveness of inhalation is largely dependent on the size and distribution of the droplets.

• Nebulisers work by creating a mist (e.g., using air compressors) of drug particles (e.g., bronchodilators, steroids and antibiotics) that patients inhale via a face mask or mouthpiece.


How Acu-Flow works

The research team behind Acu-Flow has developed a new technique of aerosolisation using surface acoustic waves (SAWs) combined with special filters which control droplet size and dispersion – and thus improve delivery of many pharmaceuticals.

SAWs are similar to seismic activity or the waves of an earthquake, but at the scale of nanometers (~10,000th of the width of one human hair). Acu-Flow uses an electric pulse to generate vibrations as sound waves along the surface of a solid material, which then transfer into the liquid on its path, forming ripples in the liquid. The size of the droplets in the mist generated is controlled by confining the ripples (or capillary waves) in cylindrical cavities or microfilters, in the order of 100s of micrometers (µm), producing droplets with diameters as small as 1–5 micrometers (µm). These droplets tend to lead to better penetration and dispersion in the pulmonary cavities than larger ones.


















"Elijah Nazarzadeh Acu-Flow". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-three)
Printed from on 03/07/20 10:54:04 PM

Science Scotland is a science & technology publication brought to you by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (