Skin in the game: Needle-free COVID vaccine patches a step closer

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Australian biotech firm Vaxxas set for clinical trials of needle-free vaccine patches

[Antonia O’Flaherty]

Brisbane-based biotechnology company Vaxxas is set to launch clinical trials delivering a COVID-19 vaccine with needle-free patches from mid-next year.

Key points:

– Research shows the University of Texas Hexapro vaccine is effective against COVID-19 in mice when delivered with the Vaxxas patch

– UQ’s Dr David Muller says the research shows a strong and effective immune response

– The technology is progressing to clinical trials next year

The company says the technology could boost Australia’s future vaccination rollout.

The clinical trials follow successful animal studies conducted by the University of Queensland in partnership with Vaxxas.

Under the testing, the patches were used to inoculate mice with the Hexapro vaccine, developed by the University of Texas, which successfully protected them from the virus.

Vaxxas head of medical device and process engineering Michael Junger told ABC Radio Brisbane the company was planning to conduct the human trials from mid next year, hopefully in Australia, and the technology had the potential for self-administration.

“If there’s a future pandemic, the last thing you want to do is rock up to a vaccination centre and line up with thousands of people to get a vaccine, so that leaves the door open to self administration.”

So how does it work?

University of Queensland research, published in a peer-reviewed journal today, showed the vaccine patches produced a stronger and faster immune response than needles and syringes.

The technology, a “high-density microarray patch” has thousands of vaccine-coated microprojections that are applied to the skin for a few seconds to efficiently deliver the vaccine to the immune cells immediately below the skin surface.

Mr Junger told ABC Radio Brisbane [applying the patch felt like flicking your arm with your nail](/news/2021-08-06/needle-free-vaccine-being-developed-by-brisbane-company-vaxxas/100349286) .

Dr Muller said delivering the vaccine like this enhanced its effectiveness.

“That’s where there is a high density of immune cells, so you’re placing the vaccine where the cells can really process it,” he said.

Milestone reached

Dr Muller said having the research published was a milestone in the process for the technology, and if the clinical trials were successful, it could “dramatically assist” the global vaccine rollout “for billions of vulnerable people”.

“We have really promising pre-clinical data and we’ve been able to show promise against variants of concern — we’ve had promising antibodies against alpha and beta variants,” Dr Muller said.

“We’ve shown this vaccine, when dry-coated on a patch, is stable for at least 30 days at 25 degrees Celsius and one week at 40 degrees, so it doesn’t have the cold-chain requirements of some of the current options.”

The device is already involved in many clinical trials, including [measles rubella with the University of the Sunshine Coast](/news/2021-08-06/needle-free-vaccine-being-developed-by-brisbane-company-vaxxas/100349286) .

‘Revolution’ for children, needle phobic

Dr Lara Herrero, an infectious diseases expert at Griffith University, said this patch technology was “quite revolutionary” for worldwide vaccine delivery in general, because it was not invasive and it did not require cold storage.

“I think time will tell whether or not this technology provides a more robust and specific immune response for SARS-CoV-2 but there are viruses naturally transmitted through breaks in skin that this technology — it’s almost certain this is the best for.”

A spokesperson from the Therapeutic Goods Association said in order for a new vaccine to be provisionally approved, a sponsor was required to submit a comprehensive dossier with clinical and scientific data supporting the safety, efficacy and quality of the product.

“This would typically include data from large well-conducted clinical trials in addition to other information,” the spokesperson said.

The research is published in Sciences Advances Journal today.

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