Will the "Flu Patch" Replace Traditional Vaccines?

Researchers are testing a novel vaccine delivery device that could change how pharmacists administer influenza vaccines.

Imagine the scene: a patient comes into the pharmacy seeking a seasonal flu vaccine. Instead of dropping everything to administer an injection, you hand the patient a sticky patch, which she quickly—and painlessly—self-administers by pressing it firmly onto her skin.

A recent report in the journal Nature Medicine suggests the scenario may not be so far off.

Mark Prausnitz, PhD, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of the university’s Center for Drug Design, Development and Delivery, theorized that skin may be a better entry point for vaccines due to its high concentration of antigen-presenting cells.

To test the hypothesis, Dr. Prausnitz and colleagues developed a patch equipped with 100 microneedles made from a biodegradable polymer. When applied to the skin, the needles release a dose of inactivated influenza virus and dissolve within minutes.

The patch has not been tested on humans, but it was proven to be as effective as injections at protecting mice against infection. The results of these early trials also suggest the dissolving patches may provide a stronger defense than injections against infections in the lungs.

If the findings translate to humans, the innovative patch design could enable “simpler and safer vaccination with improved immunogenicity that could facilitate increased vaccination coverage,” Dr. Prausnitz wrote. It would join intranasal vaccines, such as MedImmune’s FluMist, as one of the few noninvasive or minimally invasive options for patients seeking pain-free flu vaccines.

The patches require no special handling and can be stored at room temperature, which would create opportunities to dramatically increase vaccine coverage. For example, they could be sold directly to patients through pharmacies or distributed to traditionally underserved populations in remote areas.

An article in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review reported that Dr. Prausnitz and his co-authors are in the process of soliciting funding for a clinical trial, in which they will use human subjects to test the patch as a delivery device for influenza and other vaccines.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Know Your Medicine, Know Your Pharmacist
  • Mammograms May be Lifesaving for Younger Women
  • Medicare Recruits Seniors to Spot, Stop, and Report Fraud