The effort to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 relies on the syringe and needle, using a 19th-century technology to get 21st-century science into the arms of billions. Now the race is on to find alternatives.
Executives such as David Hipkiss sense an opportunity. His firm, Enesi Pharma Ltd. of Oxfordshire, England, is developing a device that painlessly implants a vaccine-imbued tube of sugars smaller than a grain of rice under the skin.
The pandemic has sparked a research-and-development gold rush in vaccines. Developers of novel vaccine-delivery technology hope that they are next, and that the drive to inoculate the planet will shower them with investment dollars and entice big-name partners with deep pockets who can help bring their products to market.
Theirs is a field littered with development misfires and costly gadgets that, for decades, failed to unseat the simple needle, syringe and glass vial. Aside from the occasional nasal spray for flu or sugar lump for polio, the hypodermic needle has been the mainstay of protecting against infectious disease since it was pioneered by a Dublin physician in 1844.
Skeptics say that because needles are so inexpensive, abundant and effective, that isn’t likely to change. But the belief among delivery-technology executives and others in the vaccine world is that the pandemic has revealed to all what they have long seen as a false economy. Vaccinating millions isn’t a cheap and easy task when the existing technology requires freezing cold-chain logistics, an army of trained personnel to inject needles, long lines, wasted doses and billions of dollars.
“We’ve got to find a better solution,” said Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist who until December led the U.K. government’s vaccine procurement and deployment program. “Ultimately, we need to be in a position whereby as and when a nasty virus comes along the whole world can get vaccinated.”
Technologies in development for delivering vaccines include Enesi’s dissolving implants, microneedle patches, electrical-pulse systems, nasal sprays and even pills. Some firms are developing their own vaccines against Covid-19, while others are aiming to reformulate some of the dozens already in development or being rolled out world-wide. Some are sitting this pandemic out in the hope of being ready for the next one.Original Source