Transdermal Drug Delivery: Will Skin patches Replace Pills and Injections?

Just imagine being able to avoid having to take a pill or an injection, instead just sticking a patch onto your arm to get the same effect. So, from Ibuprofen to Insulin, why aren’t we all using them?

Well, actually, over the last decade, an increasing number of drugs, from hormonal contraception to anti-smoking aids have become available as transdermal drug delivery systems (TDDS), which is a non-invasive patch which allows a drug to be absorbed through the skin.

One example is nicotine patches for Smokers – a simple, painless and convenient to replace the nictotine source for cravings. There is even a patch which is holding a phase III trial to treat peanut allergies, by delivering small doses of allergens through the skin of patients to desensitize them.



How the Viaskin Peanut Patch works to Desensitize the Patient to the peanut allergens (Source – Edited: DBV Technologies)

The advantages of such technology are obvious, particularly for patients who have to have regular injections, or those with phobias of needles or trouble swallowing tablets. Such patches also ensure a controlled absorption rate of the drug and more uniform plasma drug concentrations.

However, some challenges also exist, and sometimes include local irritation or sensitization of the skin where the patch is applied – or accidental removal of the patch due to sweat or clothing, meaning disruption of delivery. Patch material cost also mean they are more expensive to produce, although this could change with more R&D…

So who’s Working on TDDS in the Industry?

In Europe, Medherant, a spin-out from Dave Haddleton‘s team at the University of Warwick (UK) recently patented the world’s first ibuprofen patch. This delivers one of world’s commonest analgesic through the skin, exactly where it is needed and at a constant dose rate.

Medherant has achieved this through a patch that incorporates a polymer matrix which sticks to the patient’s skin, permitting the drug to then be absorbed at a steady rate for up to 12 hours. European startups in the field also have competitors such as ProSolus, based in Miami, and Plastopharma, which started out in France but was bought by Abbott.


The Japanese Biotech, Nitto, is also working on TDDS with the PassPort medtech system.
The applicator releases a pulse of energy to the porator, painlessly ablating the stratum corneum under each filament to create microchannels. A simple transdermal patch is then applied to the ablated skin and drug delivery begins (Source: Nitto).

This is a very popular concept in the US Biotech scene too. For example, for insulin delivery, Prometheon Pharma has developed the TruePatch, a needle-free multi-day basal insulin patch.

This makes a simple, convenient, and affordable alternative to daily injections for fine and consistent insulin therapy, which diabetic patients normally tackle using a syringe. Needle-free monitoring of blood glucose levels is another huge area of Medtech development, an overview of which we covered last month.

So although Transdermal patches clearly have many, major advantages, it is evident there are still areas of improvement needed before they can present serious competition to traditional tablet and injection forms of drug delivery.

Feature Image Credit: What lies beneath… © Guniita (Bigstock ID81809696)

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