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The Next Frontier of Pharmacology: Micro Drug Delivery

Injectable medication can be burdensome for the patient, causing pain and discomfort, and can contribute to compliance issues especially when chronic treatment is required. A promising and emerging area in pharmacology that may alleviate these obstacles is transdermal microneedle drug delivery. Patch microneedles are about the size of a postage stamp and can contain ~30-50 tiny needles smaller than the diameter of a strand of hair. This innovative design limits pain, tissue trauma and infection, and could be applied by minimally-trained personnel, facilitating use in both developed and developing countries.

Patch microneedles are widely gaining traction in the vaccine drug development space.  The microneedles penetrate the upper skin layer and rapidly dissolve to deliver the vaccine. Transdermal vaccine delivery is a preferred alternative for those with a fear of needles and is an essential step towards disease eradication worldwide.  A critical issue concerning current vaccines reaching rural regions is the lack of refrigeration and a cold supply chain. In this respect, microneedles hold the potential to overcome vaccine wastage due to heat and light exposure as well as volume waste.

This technology is not only being applied to vaccines but across indications from oncology to chronic diseases such as diabetes. Alarmingly, the World Health Organization estimates that only half of all patients with chronic diseases comply with treatment recommendations.  Microneedle patches are being developed to address treatment compliance by easing the burden of daily or weekly injections.  Through passive drug diffusion, drug delivery could be sustained for 6 months up to 1 year as fixed needles swell within the skin layer to hold the patch in place.

Microneedle patch technology is a promising drug delivery system that may ease patient burden and can facilitate great treatment compliance. A number of current studies in early clinical drug development are underway for a multitude of disease indications. This drug delivery technology has the potential to revolutionize access to treatment, making significant impact on public health worldwide.