Needle-free vaccines one step closer as huge production plant opens
More than a decade in research and development, a state-of-the-art needle-free vaccine is imminent for commercial use as biotechnology company Vaxxas cuts the ribbon on a massive production plant and business headquarters in Brisbane, Australia.
Occupying a 60,000-sq-ft (5,500-sq-m) warehouse space in the state of Queensland's capital city, the Vaxxas Biomedical Facility will scale up the production of its high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP) for late-stage trials and the first commercial products are projected to enter the market in three to five years.
The plant is expected to be able to produce millions of vaccine patches each year once fully operational.
Founded in 2011, using technology developed by scientists at the University of Queensland (UQ), it follows the blueprint of the dry-delivery microneedle/microarray research that’s been making waves for the past decade.
On the patch, thousands of tiny, dry vaccine-coated microprojections are assembled, and when they make contact with the skin they painlessly, efficiently deliver the drug to immune cells that sit just below the surface.
It’s a win for those who suffer trypanophobia – a fear of needles – which may decrease with age from childhood into adolescence, but it is still reported to be present in around 16% of adults.
Also, because the vaccine dry-coated, it doesn’t need to be stored at low temperatures like traditional liquid biologics, removing the logistically difficult cold chain transport complexities. It also is as easy as pushing a patch down onto the skin’s surface, so does not require trained staff to administer vaccines like current syringe-delivery systems. Back in 2021, studies showed the HD-MAP tech offered a superior immune response, too.
"Because our technology delivers the vaccine direct to the abundant immune cells just under the skin surface, our research shows an equal or greater immune response can be achieved with as little as one sixth of the vaccine required for traditional needle injection," said the company’s chief technology officer Dr Angus Forster at the Lord Mayor’s Business Awards in Brisbane in 2022, where Vaxxas won the award for Product Innovation.
A COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be the first to the finish line and in production, following successful trials featuring more than 500 participants. There’s also a seasonal influenza patch on the horizon.
“This world-renowned technology has the potential to play a vital role in pandemic-preparedness, because it allows vaccines to be deployed quickly and easily to our communities,” said Queensland deputy premier Steven Miles.
A clinical evaluation will be completed on a “pandemic influenza” vaccine funded by the US Government, and next year, a measles-rubella study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is set to commence.
However, we're stuck with the jab for a while yet.
“We expect to manufacture and distribute the first commercially available needle-free vaccine patches from this Queensland facility within three to five years,” said company CEO David Hoey.