Painless vaccines that could simply be stuck like a band-aid are being tested on several volunteers. Skin-patch vaccines are being tested for protection against the flu and travelers' diarrhea.
Iomai Corp. has developed these vaccines and is conducting early trials with the funding from the National Institutes of Health.
According to the company, the vaccines will not just be painless; it may easily be used by anybody by himself or herself. It could be as simple as the manufactured vaccine being dispatched to people with instructions on how to stick it on to the skin.
This type of vaccine may have several advantages like, it will not required to refrigerate them, as it is needle-less, there won't be a risk of reuse or contamination through needles.
However, it is only in the initial stages. It will take a long time for it to prove its efficacy.
There are studies that show that skin could be an ideal route to boost the immune system.
"It may be that the expectations for vaccine patch technology are now slowly bearing fruit," says Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, a vaccine expert who has long monitored the field.
"It is what I would call an alluring technology."
"The approach is novel and may be the way many vaccines are given in the future," says Dr. Herbert DuPont of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. A specialist in diarrheal diseases, he is helping Iomai test the travelers' diarrhea patch in U.S. tourists headed for Mexico.
Though drugs like nicotine and those for birth control have been delivered through skin, how will the vaccines penetrate the skin? The former are smaller molecules that can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream whereas the latter comprise large proteins.
"We're not inventing anything new, just exposing pathogens the way humans have seen them all their life," Erck says.
The first-stage testing of flu vaccine patches in 270 volunteers began last month. Iomai is to conduct testing at a larger scale.
"There definitely is promise to that idea," says Dr. David S. Cho of the NIH's flu product development office, who monitors the patch project, although he cautions that Iomai must prove if the immune booster works with a variety of flu strains.