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Microneedle technology gets the green light

Cardiff-based scientists whose innovation could spell the end for certain types of injections are set to take their product to market.

Picofluidics Ltd, which operates out of Cardiff Medicentre, has completed the rigorous programme of proof of concept testing with the help of scientists from Coventry University and funding from Innovate UK. Trials have confirmed the viability of Picofluidics’ plasma treatment technology, which enables the cost-effective production of collections of many thousands of microneedles. Thinner than human hair, microneedles deliver medicines more effectively than traditional hypodermic needles, often in the form of a patch applied to a patient’s skin.

Dr John Macneil, founder and Managing Director of Picofluidics said:

“This milestone has been reached after many years of laboratory work developing a specific type of microneedle that can be produced for approximately one-tenth of the cost of those currently on the market. We are now looking to collaborate with partners to commercialise our technology and roll out the benefits to patients.”

Dr Macneil believes there are many potential uses for its microneedles, from the virtually pain-free injection of medication such as vaccines or insulin, to intradermal fluid removal for diagnostic purposes and the early detection of disease. Their shallow penetration depth means that microneedles are also well suited to deliver treatments to localised skin problems, such as certain forms of skin cancer. The company anticipates manufacturing arrays of microneedles, on rigid or flexible surfaces, to meet particular clinical needs.

“While many standard injections could potentially be replaced by a microneedle patch, we believe adoption will commence with ‘niche’ applications, such as pain relief where patients can self-administer a patch instead of applying a cream or gel,” said Dr Macneil. “We then expect our microneedles to start replacing standard syringes in the delivery of some medicines. Aside from being a more comfortable option for patients, our microneedles produce less waste and potentially offer more control over the dose being delivered. It all makes for better treatment and better outcomes for patients.”

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The company is also confident that medical professionals and the wider NHS stand to benefit, not least from the ability of patients to self-administer medicine in this way.

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“Microneedles have long had the potential to revolutionise healthcare globally, but the process of manufacturing them has until now been commercially prohibitive,” explained Dr Macneil. “Ours are produced at a radically reduced cost – something that is hugely important in the context of their widespread use. If you consider that the US consumption of needles for insulin alone stands at more than a billion needles per year, the scale and potential speaks for itself.”

Picofluidics was set up in 2009. It carries out research and development and manufactures all products at its laboratory at Cardiff Medicentre – the incubation hub for medtech and biotech companies.

Dr Justin John, Business Incubation Officer at Cardiff Medicentre said, “John and his team have been Medicentre tenants since 2010 and it has been a pleasure to support the company in its growth. It is always great to see ideas being brought to life, and I have every confidence that in a few years’ time the technology that Picofluidics has harnessed will be in common use throughout the healthcare community.”

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