No more needles? Gates Foundation funds patch-style vaccine technology

FILE PHOTO: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pictured in Seattle

By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON (Reuters) -The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $23.6 million to U.S.-based life science company Micron Biomedical to fund the first ever mass production of needle-free vaccine technology.

The technology works by delivering the vaccine via dissolvable microneedles attached to the skin on a patch-like device.

Global health experts have long argued for the potential of similar technology to boost the uptake of life-saving shots.

It is simpler to transport and administer than traditional injections, particularly in low-income countries where reaching all of the children who need vaccines remains challenging. But scaling up production has been a hurdle.

A trial in Gambia earlier this year showed that Micron’s device delivered the measles-rubella vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, to adults, babies and toddlers as safely and effectively as syringes, and produced a similar immune response.

The technology "could help overcome some of the most substantial barriers to eradicating measles and rubella globally", said James Goodson, senior scientist in the immunization division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has also partnered with Micron.

It reduces the need for a cold chain for distribution, and does not require a trained professional to give the vaccine. It could also help those with a fear of injections, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

The funding will support the development of a manufacturing facility to help make around 10 million devices annually, for larger clinical trials and then wider use, subject to approvals from regulatory authorities.

The company has had several other grants from Gates, to help deliver the technology to "underserved populations around the world", Micron's CEO Steven Damon said.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Jan Harvey, William Maclean)