Replacing an intrusive COVID-19 vaccine needle with a simple pain-free patch could become a reality following a breakthrough by University of Queensland (UQ) scientists.
But it also has the potential to rolling out an affordable vaccination program to billions of poorer people around the world that is also claimed to be more effective.
The UQ team has successfully tested Hexapro, a University of Texas vaccine candidate, on mice by applying the vaccine through a high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP) developed by UQ and commercialised by Vaxxas.
The tests found that the patch offered strong immune responses in mice exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The study effectively paves the way for a single, pain-free 'click' from a pocket-sized applicator for imunisation against COVID-19.
"When the Hexapro vaccine is delivered via HD-MAP applicator, rather than a needle, it produces better and faster immune responses," says Dr David Muller, from the UQ's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.
"It also neutralises multiple variants, including the UK and South Africa variants. And it's much more user-friendly than a needle.
"You simply click an applicator on the skin, and 5,000 microscopic projections almost imperceptibly deliver vaccine into the skin."
Dr Muller says the UQ team and Vaxxas plan to bring the technology to commercial applications with the partners currently seeking funding to accelerate to clinical trials.
He says the combination of Hexapro, which is said to provide affordable vaccine manufacturing in countries currently dependent on imported vaccines, and the HD-MAP delivery method could significantly boost the global vaccine rollout to billions of people in vulnerable nations.
"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," says Dr Muller.
Vaxxas, a company founded in 2011 by the UQ's commercialisation company UniQuest, has been buoyed by the findings.
"These results are extremely clear vaccination by HD-MAP produces much stronger and more protective immune responses against COVID-19 in model systems than via needle or syringe," says Vaxxa CEO David L. Hoey.
"The prospect of having a single-dose vaccine, that could be easily distributed and self-administered, would greatly improve global pandemic vaccination capabilities."
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