The Ripple Effect: Cimzia Syringe

A better-designed syringe means improved self-treatment for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis.

How did the pharmaceutical company UCB connect with the consumer-products giant Oxo when looking to ensure that Cimzia, its self-injected treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, stood out in a market crowded with similar medications? “We had to call customer service,” says Bert Kelly, a spokesman for UCB, whose U.S. headquarters is in Atlanta. In talks with arthritis patients, UCB’s team kept hearing one name: Oxo, famous for the chunky-handled kitchen tools it developed for weak, arthritic hands.

Oxo gets requests for redesigns all the time—Oxo golf clubs! Oxo steering wheels!—but never had one come from a pharmaceutical company. In fact, it’s a whole new trend in health care: medical technology marketed as consumer products, a mold cast by companies like Advair, with its purple Diskus asthma inhaler. UCB designers may not have known whom at Oxo to call, but when their message got through, it made perfect sense. “Redesigning the syringe was similar to redesigning kitchen tools,” says Dan Formosa, co-founder of Smart Design, Oxo’s partner. “These are items that had been untouched for years.”

The standard syringe just wasn’t working. UCB noted that, unable to grip the little plastic finger holds, some arthritis patients were stabbing the needle into their skin like a knife and smacking the plunger down with their palms. Smart saw plungers break and patients stick themselves while fumbling with tiny needle caps.

The job was not simply designing a syringe, Formosa says. “The goal was understanding behavior.” In other words, the design had to recognize what people with arthritis can and will do. Smart rubberized the handle to eliminate pressure points and made it big enough to hold with three fingers, giving weak hands 48 percent more pushing force. It also covered the needle with an easier-to-uncap rubber loop. The plunger is stronger, and the syringe’s body is now oval shaped to prevent spinning. The improved design, released last spring, not only makes self-injecting the correct way easier to do—no more knife jabs—but friendly touches like the loop allow users to adopt personal techniques; an initial study found 12 different ways of injecting the medication.

The new syringe may never be as big a success as Oxo’s now iconic potato peeler. Cimzia currently commands only 2 percent of the market for rheumatoid-arthritis medication. Still, Kelly says, UCB’s new partnership is reason enough to celebrate. “People lump us together with Oxo now. They call us wanting to talk to them,” he says. “It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten fan mail.”

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