This picture shows just one of the intriguing element of a tiny, needle-free drug delivery patch being developed by a startup jointly based in Australia and Cambridge, Massachusetts. That, of course, would be the diminished pain factor.
But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Vaxxas’s Nanopatch is a 1 cm x 1 cm silicon patch made up of thousands of microprojections that are coated with a vaccine. When held against the skin with an applicator for between 15 seconds and two minutes, the patch’s microprojections perforate the outer layers of the skin and deliver the vaccine immediately below the surface of the skin, a sweet spot for immune cells.
The Nanopatch was developed in the lab of Prof. Mark Kendall at the University of Queensland and licensed to Vaxxas, which is backed by a consortium of Australian investors – OneVentures, Brandon Capital Partners and Medical Research Commercialisation – and HealthCare Ventures LLC in the U.S.
Based on what it’s seen of the patch in animal models, Vaxxas thinks it can create vaccines that are not only pain-free but also cost effective, in that they would use a fraction of the dose required by a conventional vaccine and potentially eliminate the need for additives and refrigeration.
Vaxxas, of course, isn’t alone in the quest for a pain-free, shelf-stable vaccine. Intercell, for one, is developing a vaccine delivery patch, although it’s quite a bit bigger and left on the skin longer. Iomai Corp. also has a proprietary drug delivery method it calls transcutaneous immunization. But what’s most interesting about the Nanopatch, according to CEO David Hoey, is that in mouse models it’s consistently shown across a range of antigens to be significantly more potent in generating an immune response than traditional vaccines.
That’s a great start, but don’t expect to see the patch on the market any time soon. It’s been extensively tested in mouse models, and the company is focused now on testing in larger animals and preparing the patch for clinical use. That means scaling it to a smaller size (the patches used in mouse models are about 4 times the size the patches for humans would be), figuring out the best mode of application and determining the most economically feasible and GMP compliant way to manufacture the patch and the applicator.
Then there’s the task of incorporating an actual vaccine into the patch, which Hoey said involves drying a liquid version of a vaccine and coating the microprojections with it. But even before it can get too excited about that, Vaxxas is still trying to figure out exactly what kind of immune response it would be able generate across different diseases in humans. “We don’t know enough to know yet,” Hoey said when I asked if the technology was more suited for a certain kind of vaccine. “(Kendall) has got a wide range of publications that show, mostly in the mouse model, improvements in immune response across different disease, but they’re not all improved to the same extent.”
To get to that point, Vaxxas is simultaneously working with Merck in a deal whereby the pharma will use the technology in development of a vaccine candidate in its pipeline. Hoey said that kind of licensing arrangement is what the company will continue to look for moving forward. “You have to make the decision about whether you’re going to in-license vaccines with the idea of bringing them to market yourself or go through a licensing model to work with people who already have a vaccine,” he said. “You can’t do both of them at the same time because you end up competing with your customers.”
The company was spun out of Kendall’s lab in 2011 and established a U.S. headquarters in Cambridge near HealthCare Ventures in 2012.
[Photo courtesy of Vaxxas]