After 160 years, it’s time to throw away the needle and syringe

Professor Mark Kendall is planning to dispatch the 160-year-old needle and syringe to history. He’s invented a new vaccine technology that’s painless, uses a fraction of the dose, puts the vaccine just under the skin, and doesn’t require a fridge.

The Nanopatch is a 1 cm square piece of silicon with 20,000 microscopic needles engineered on one side. Coat the needles with dry vaccine, push it gently but firmly against the skin, and the vaccine is delivered just under the outer layer of skin.

It’s a technology he invented in response to a call from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeking ideas for delivery of vaccines in developing countries—where it’s a challenge to keep conventional wet vaccines cold to the point of delivery.

Mark had been working on PowderJect, a device that released vaccine particles at twice the speed of sound, allowing them to penetrate just under the skin to an important community of immune cells.

While delivery via the skin reduced the required dose and increased efficiency, this technology was too expensive for the Gates Foundation. So Mark went back to first principles and invented the Nanopatch.

Mark has had to push the science and business worlds to see the value of his new approach to vaccine delivery. It took 70 presentations before he secured funding for the University of Queensland spin-out company Vaxxas, which now employs 50 people.

Human trials of Mark’s Nanopatch are underway in Australia, and the concept has broad patent coverage. It’s being supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck and the WHO.

For his work reinventing vaccinations Mark was awarded the $25,000 CSL Young Florey Medal—which recognises mid-career achievements in biomedical science and human health advancement.

Banner image: A silicon wafer of Nanopatches (credit: Kendall Group, The University of Queensland)

Professor Mark Kendall (UQ) winner of the CSL 2016 Young Florey Medal