Merck Acquires License for Experimental Skin-Patch Immunization

Merck & Co., the maker of the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine, will work with Vaxxas Pty to develop a skin-patch delivery system for immunizations, the Brisbane, Australia-based company said.

Merck will pay an undisclosed fee up front and help fund research evaluating Vaxxas’s Nanopatch, the company said in a statement today. Merck agreed to make additional payments tied to the development of the vaccine technology, Vaxxas said.

Vaxxas plans to test the Nanopatch on humans within two years after tests on mice found it could protect them against flu with 1 percent of the antigen used in needle-administered shots, said co-inventor Mark Kendall, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Queensland. The deal with Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck will fund “several” scientists to conduct the research, he said.

“They really see it as a possibility for changing the game for their vaccines,” Kendall said in a telephone interview.

Vaxxas was formed last year to commercialize technology developed at the university in Brisbane, where discoveries last century led to vaccines against human papillomavirus, the biggest cause of cervical cancer. Investors include Sydney-based OneVentures, Melbourne-based Brandon Capital Partners, and HealthCare Ventures LLC, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to the statement.

Less Than $1

The Nanopatch is designed to deliver vaccine to the immune cells located about the width of human hair below the skin surface via about 10,000 tiny projections contained on the 1-centimeter-square patch, Kendall said.

The patch could potentially be self-administered on the arm or shoulder and produce a protective immune response in seconds to minutes, he said. It wouldn’t need to be refrigerated and, if mass-produced, may cost less than $1. In the event of a flu pandemic, it might be mailed to people, Kendall said.

“A device such as that would significantly benefit the delivery of vaccines in a scenario, such as a pandemic, where they’re needed rapidly for a large population,” said Lorena Brown, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Melbourne, whose lab tested the patch on mice for immunization against flu.

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