In 2011 the Eureka prize for Research by an Interdisciplinary Team was won by Prof. Mark Kendall and the engineers, mathematicians, materials scientists and immunologists of his team. Prof Kendall also received the Translational Research Excellence Commercialisation Award and was the overall winner of The Australian Innovation Awards 2012.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provided funding so it could develop the NanopatchTM for polio vaccination. This included pre-clinical studies and the development of good manufacturing practices. The development of the NanopatchTM has depended on Microscopy Australia.
Most vaccinations still rely on the needle and syringe but liquid vaccines need to be kept cold. This causes a high percentage of vaccinations to fail, especially in developing countries. The high risk of needle-stick injuries is also problematic where HIV is widespread.
As the primary barrier protecting the body, the skin contains more specialised antigen-presenting cells (APCs) than muscle, where most vaccines are currently delivered. Prof. Kendall and his team are directly targeting these skin cells in a completely new approach to vaccination. Their nanopatch is covered with thousands of tiny projections dry-coated with vaccine. The silicon projections are designed to pierce the tough outer layer of cells and enter the skin just far enough to directly target the APCs. When the dried vaccine hits the moist cellular environment it dissolves off the patch right into the APCs. When foreign substances penetrate the skin the APCs spring into action to establish an immune response. The patch only needs to stay on the skin for a minute or less to be effective.
The nanopatches are painless and, because the vaccine is delivered directly to the APCs, much less is required to give the same level of response, greatly improving efficiency. The dry-coating process ensures that the vaccine-coated patches retain full potency for long periods of time without refrigeration. This feature alone is likely to have a major impact on the effectiveness of mass vaccination programs, especially in developing countries.
Vaxxas has attracted $15 million of investment to continue development of the Nanopatch and take it to clinical trials. Investors, led by OneVentures, include Brandon Capital, the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and US-based HealthCare Ventures.