The Gates Foundation has been investing heavily in vaccine research since the late 1990s, awarding over $10 billion in grants since then. The foundation also pours hundreds of millions of dollars into vaccine development and delivery. Some of that funding is announced loudly and proudly, like its recent $1.55 billion commitment to Gavi and its $156 million grant to PATH for its malaria work.
Other projects that receive funding are a bit quieter on the press front and oftentimes receive little if any press at all—like a project that just received a Gates boost of $2.5 million to help launch a phase one clinical trial that, if successful, has the potential to save millions of lives.
This work is being undertaken by Micron Biomedical, a biopharmaceutical company that has been working in conjunction with Mark Prausnitz of Georgia Tech to develop a microneedle patch for polio. Parusnitz, who holds multiple titles at Georgia Tech including director of the Center for Drug Design, Development and Delivery, has been working on the microneedle for two decades. The theory is that these thin, cone-shaped patches can be filled with vaccines which are delivered through microneedles by pressing the patch into the user’s skin. The microneedles then dissolve into the skin in about 15 minutes.
The $2.5 million grant from Gates will help to develop and commercialize a microneedle patch for the polio vaccine.
If Micron Biomedical’s clinical trials are successful, it could mean a complete turnaround in the vaccine delivery field, not to mention that it has the potential to save millions of lives. The developers are hoping that its microneedle vaccine delivery system, which is basically like a large bandage, will be sold over-the-counter, at an affordable price. That means anyone in need of a polio vaccine can walk into their local market, purchase the vaccine and administer it themselves.