Future of Injectables Could Be Needle-Free Delivery Systems

APRIL 09, 2018
For a few years now, I have been a champion behind the idea of 'smart' medication devices. This includes the likes of smart inhalers that can detect actuations, and insulin pens that can measure and track units injected, but the one that has been missing has been the biologic market.
 
It's no secret that the specialty pharmacy market is where the money is in the pharmacy space. 'Specialty drugs' by and large are perhaps the highest cost, and highest profit medications, but also pose some of the least innovation I have seen. Oral medications, for the likes of hepatitis treatment or other infectious conditions, are seeing a push for means to increase adherence, which includes marketing from pharmaceutical companies, and support from insurance companies. After all, if you are covering these drugs, and if there is a clinical impact after so many weeks of taking it, you want to make sure the patient is finishing the course of therapy, so you don't need to repeat it.
 
But oral medications aside, it is the injectables that probably are the most known in the specialty market, with most of them being biologics. So what do you do to make those stand out? Well, recently Takeda announced they are going to collaborate with Portal Instruments to develop and commercialize a needle-free delivery system that will be featured in Takeda's biologic medications. Portal Instruments is based outside of Boston, MA, and has been around for a few years.1 Their work has focused on creating a device that removes the needles, and syringes from injectable medications. It is actually cool, and I love that they are adding some digital health aspects to it, including ways to capture time of drug delivery to track adherence, and foster reports for clinicians.
 
For me, there are two things here: the needle-free system is really cool, and the adherence tracking aspect can be useful. Removal of needles, and syringes cuts down on the waste that builds up with injectable drugs. It could also be a cleaner mechanic, and the system is aimed to deliver the medication in half of a second. Whether this is more or less painful, or limits injection site, I am not aware, though it is worth watching for in the future. The tracking of adherence is useful on multiple fronts. This includes determining when adverse effects occur during injection windows, and data for insurers, and specialty pharmacies could also be helpful in their workflow. 

Currently, the medication that seems of interest to Takeda for use with Portal Instruments' device is vedolizumab (Entyvio, Takeda Pharmacueticals America), currently approved in the United States for ulcerative colitis or Crohn's Disease.2 As Stefan Koenig, Global Program & Brand Leader at Takeda said in a statement, “There is a need for options to keep improving the experience for patients with lifelong, chronic conditions that are managed with the intravenous infusions of biologic medicines... This partnership with Portal demonstrates Takeda’s leadership in supporting patients with GI diseases and our commitment to evolve the management of these diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, by potentially offering patients the ability to administer treatment in their own at home with a needle-free system.”

I suspect that Takeda isn't the only one interested in this market, and that other companies are making plays for this area as well, as it just makes sense. I mean, the needle and syringe mechanic for medication administration has been around for more than a century, and was bound to be disrupted at some point. The cost will most likely be the most significant decider, but I know many patients would clamor for a needle-free system. 
 
References
  1. Portal Instruments. https://www.portalinstruments.com/. Accessed April 9, 2018.
  2. Takeda and Portal Instruments Announce Collaboration to Develop Needle-Free Drug Delivery Device [news release]. Osaka, Japan, and Cambridge, MA: Portal Instruments Newsroom; November 7, 2017. https://www.portalinstruments.com/takeda-portal-instruments-collaboration/. Accessed April 9, 2018.


Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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