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Needle-free COVID-19 vaccine patch shows promise

07 June 2021

The delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine has thrown up a lot of logistical challenges globally, including cold chain requirements and a global shortage of glass vials.

At the end of the day, you have to vaccinate almost 8 billion people on the planet. Twice.

To date, 2 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered globally. But the rate of vaccination differs markedly between countries. Half the US population will soon have received at least one vaccine shot. Whereas, at the current rate of vaccination, India will take 2.5 years to vaccinate 75 per cent of its population.

At it stands currently, global infections are over 174 million cases, with 3.7 million deaths. The World Health Organisation has warned of a possible third wave in Africa after a 20 per cent rise in infections in two weeks.
So the race is on to find a way to deliver vaccines much quicker.

Dr David Muller from the University of Queensland was awarded a $300,000 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship last year to see if it was possible to use nanopatch technology to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr Muller tested the technology with mice using a US vaccine candidate – the University of Texas Hexapro vaccine, currently in Stage 3 human trials. A recent article in The New York Times said the vaccine candidate, which is cheap to produce, could be one of big game-changers for low-income countries looking to get on top of the pandemic.

Dr Muller’s patch technology produced strong immune responses that were shown to be effective when the mice were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.

It also neutralises multiple strains, including the UK and South African variants: the Alpha and Gamma variants.

The vaccine when dry-coated on the patch is stable for at least 30 days at 25 degrees Celsius and one week at 40 degrees.

Developed by the University of Queensland, the nanopatch is one of Queensland’s iconic scientific discoveries.

The patch consists of thousands of vaccine-coated microprojections that are able to perforate the dense population of immune cells in the skin to deliver a vaccine in a few seconds.

The vaccine is applied via an applicator on the skin.

The strengths of delivering a vaccine via nanopatch technology is that it does not require the same level of refrigeration as current COVID-19 vaccines, meaning it can be transported easily, including to remote parts of the world. It also has a low cost of manufacture.

This of course means, that in combination with the Hexapro vaccine, it could be the way get a COVID-19 vaccine out to millions of people in low- and middle-income countries very quickly.

Dr Muller’s industry partners on the project include Vaxxas, a company set up by UQ to commercialise the nanopatch, and Melbourne-based biotech Technovalia, which has strong links to vaccine manufacturer Bio-Net Asia.

The research team are currently looking to move the research to human trials.