Why don't we have a better bug spray yet?

Mosquitoes have caused the deaths of more people than all the wars in history. Yet the cost of entering the bug spray and repellent market is prohibitively expensive. But why?
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

Mosquitoes have caused the deaths of more people than all the wars in history. And while bed nets and insecticides have helped stifle the spread of deadly diseases like malaria, researchers have spent years working on snazzier bug repellents and sprays.

With the steep financial and regulatory hurdles, however, that's just buzz for now. Businessweek reports.

Many new options being explored impair or manipulate a mosquito's sense of smell. They can detect us by smelling for the carbon dioxide we exhale. Their 80 or so odor receptors are all tuned to specific scents ranging from cholesterol on our skin to body odors emitted by beer drinkers.

The Kite Patch by Olfactor Laboratories, for example, is a 1.5-inch-square sticker that renders us invisible to mosquitoes for up to 48 hours. It's infused with non-toxic compounds that block their ability to detect carbon dioxide. But it won't be on the market until it undergoes third-party safety and effectiveness testing.

Then there's this compound called VUAA1, which turns on all the mosquito's smell receptors at once, causing a sensory overload. It may be 100,000 times more effective than DEET. But despite the progress, it'll be a while before new repellents and compounds hit the market and replace DEET (a real game changer, but with concerns about potential toxicity).

The big holdup has to do with the prohibitive costs of entering the bug spray market, which could be as high as $200 million. Why so expensive?

  • Scaling up production to an industrial level is a very time-consuming and expensive process. "Each synthesis route brings in a novel group of impurities and those impurities may be toxic," explains Laurence Zwiebel at Vanderbilt University, "so you have to lock down the production route before you can register a product."
  • Intellectual property rights and regulatory approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and sometimes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, must be secured.
  • A DEET substitute will require an agro-chemical component -- meaning that it can be used as a pesticide. While the market for personal and spatial repellents is in the millions, agriculture changes that to billions.

Until scientists and companies find something that meets all those needs... we probably won't get a better bug spray.


Image: tanakawho via Flick

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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