If you’re someone who hates injections, you’ll like the next generation of vaccine delivery devices because they don’t look anything like needles and, apparently, they don’t hurt a bit. Take the Nanopatch, being developed by an Australian company called Vaxxas. Instead of a single spike, it’s covered in tens of thousands of tiny drug-laced pins. It’s designed to be pressed against the skin and barely make it through the surface.
Comfort level isn’t the most interesting aspect, though. More important is that the patch is ready to use and requires no refrigeration. That means it could be useful in parts of the world where cold storage isn’t reliable.
Moreover, the Nanopatch won’t cause “needle stick” injuries, according to Vaxxas CEO David Hoey (where nurses accidentally get pricked with needles). Pressing a finger against the “micro-protusions” isn’t enough to break through; you need a spring-loaded applicator to make an impression. Hoey compares the texture to sandpaper and he says the pins are so small you can’t identify them with the naked eye.
Vaxxas recently received funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) to take its product through the next stage of clinical trials. The WHO is interested in the patch to prevent polio, a disease recently on the upswing after years of abeyance. “It’s hard to keep liquid vaccines refrigerated at the best of times in the developing world, but in regions where polio is re-emerging, like the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Northern Nigeria, it’s very hard,” Hoey says. Other conflict-ridden countries, like Syria and Pakistan, have also seen outbreaks recently.
The Nanopatch, though not commercially available yet, likely won’t require professional delivery. The patch comes in a foil-wrapped plastic casing. You just need to press and snap the spring to make it work. Hoey says it needs between 15 seconds and two minutes to administer the correct dose.
The pins are designed to reach the skin’s dermis–the layer between the epidermis and the subcutaneous tissue–which contains millions of threat-detecting cells. “The benefit is that you’re able to produce a much stronger immune response per unit dose of vaccine [compared to a traditional injection],” Hoey says.
Vaxxas claims the patch could reduce vaccine costs by lowering the dose needed and cutting the need for repeat vaccinations for certain diseases. At the moment, certain populations need relatively high amounts of vaccine to produce a response–say, the elderly getting flu shots.
All being well, Hoey expects the patch, which Vaxxas is now commercializing from an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be on the market by 2018. For several reasons, it sounds like something worth waiting for.