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Pain-free injections:

Skin patch uses inkjet technology to deliver drugs

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The skin patch squirts drugs rather than ink through ultrafine needles embedded in the patch.

By Brent Gregston, January 2008


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gif »  HP IP Licensing

HP has invented the painless injection: a high-tech skin patch that could become an alternative to the hypodermic needle.

The “smart” patch uses a computer chip and microneedles to deliver precise doses of a drug just under the surface of the skin – with virtually no pain. A single patch can inject multiple drugs. Based on HP’s Inkjet technology, the skin patch squirts drugs rather than ink through ultrafine needles embedded in the skin patch.

  Janice Nickel, principal scientist at HP Labs.

“This is a complete paradigm shift in drug delivery,” says Janice Nickel, principal scientist at HP Labs.


Licensed to Crospon

HP has licensed the technology to Crospon, a medical-device company based in Galway, Ireland, to manufacture and market the device. The microneedle technology could be used with a variety of drugs and biopharmaceuticals. Depending on their use, the patches could last for days or even weeks.

Medications delivered via injection are often painful for patients. Their safety and effectiveness depends on the person handling a hypodermic needle. Swallowing a pill is not necessarily the best alternative: the efficiency of drugs taken orally can be reduced by up to 95% alone because of stomach acid.

Skin patches currently on the market require medication to be absorbed through the skin. It works for some treatments, such as the nicotine patch for smokers who want to quit. But the skin acts as a natural barrier so it is not suitable as a delivery mechanism for many drugs.



A first for industry

Each of the microneedles on a HP-Crospon skin patch can be programmed to individually inject medicine into the bloodstream, changing doses and times, depending on a patient's needs. Like an inkjet cartridge printing different colors, the skin patch can deliver multiple medications. 

“Essentially it’s a computer-controlled array of painless micro hypodermic needles,” explains Janice Nickel. “What makes this system truly unique, is that we use multiple, independent reservoirs. Each reservoir has its own heater and pump system.”

  HP-Crospon skin patch

Crospon, which focuses on the monitoring and treatment of diabetes and gastro esophageal reflux disorder, will commercialize the patch and make it available to pharmaceutical companies around the world. The new skin patches should be on the market in two to four years, depending the testing and approval process. “We believe it’s an industry first to be able to deliver multiple drugs through a single patch with microneedles,” says John O’Dea, Chief Executive Officer of Crospon, a medical device developer based in Galway, Ireland. “This industry-first skin patch allows Crospon to offer a superior drug delivery platform for doctors and patients.”


Technology transfer

The deal between HP and Crospon is an example of a technology transfer in which HP, through IP Licensing Group, is pushing HP Labs technology and research into new markets.

The agreement resulted in part from HP’s relationship with Enterprise Ireland, an Irish government agency. Through Enterprise Ireland, companies can license the intellectual property of HP and access the company’s business and technology mentoring.

“We encourage companies like Crospon to apply HP’s intellectual property in innovative ways to help more people benefit from these important technologies,” notes Joe Beyers, vice president, Intellectual Property Licensing, HP. “By licensing core intellectual property in thermal inkjet technology for use in a drug delivery product, HP breathes new life into its mature technology while capitalizing on the booming healthcare and life sciences market.”

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