New method of safe and painless drug delivery

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New method of safe and painless drug delivery is to be commercially available

NUS researchers have created an oral film that makes injections a thing of the past. (Image: NUS)

SINGAPORE: Some ways of administering medication, such as rectal insertions, can be distressing and unpleasant for patients. Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have pioneered a transformative drug delivery method, introducing adhesive oral films that offer a more user-friendly alternative. This innovative approach, designed to ease the challenges faced by vulnerable groups like children and the elderly, is not only efficient but also environmentally sustainable and cost-effective.

Developed in a project led by Dr Chan Sui Yung, associate professor at the Department of Pharmacy, this breakthrough addresses the discomforts associated with conventional medication methods, such as swallowing tablets or receiving injections. The novel solution delivers drugs into the bloodstream through the mucosal membrane when placed on the inner cheek, reducing risks like choking or dosing errors prevalent with liquid medicine.

This pioneering drug delivery system has been commercialised via PharLyfe+, an NUS start-up formed by Dr Chan and her team, Dr Tan Poh Leng and Chua Qi Shan. Dr Chan highlighted the film as a monumental leap in patient-centric medicine. The thin, round films are user-friendly, promoting patient autonomy in self-treatment. They are compact, easily distributable and, due to low water content, have an extended shelf life compared with liquid medicines. The team’s initial product targets patients experiencing end-of-life delirium and anxiety, providing a painless alternative to injections. Potential extensions of its usage are being explored for conditions like epilepsy.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Pharmacy—Chua Qi Shan, Dr Chan Sui Yung and Dr Tan Poh Leng (from left)—showing samples of the oral films developed for administering medication. (Image: NUS)

Dr Chan said, “The oral film medication is environmentally friendly without the need to stock and handle injection syringes and needles, medicine spoons/cups and devices such as sprays or applicators, and to dispose them after use. Its production requires small quantities of a few ingredients using light-duty equipment.”

Notably, the oral film production is sustainable and economical. The films consist of a specialised ingredient premix, tailored for individual medications, which is added to a drug solution, accurately dosed and then dried. This process consumes fewer resources than traditional methods. Dr Tan, whose PhD focused on oral films, emphasised the environmental and cost-saving benefits of these films, particularly their reduced packaging needs and the precision in drug dosage.

President of the Singapore Pharmacy Council Dr Lita Chew, associate professor at the Department of Pharmacy, praised the initiative, saying: “The innovative approach to compound prescribed drugs into oral film is a game-changer for delivery of medication, especially to segment[s] of populations that have difficulty taking traditional dosage forms such as tablets, capsules, syrups and injections. I look forward to the day when the oral film premix kits can be extended to home use, like the many self-test kits on pharmacy shelves.”

Looking ahead, the NUS research team has applied for a provisional patent for this technique. They are currently testing their films for various medications, including antidotes, general drugs and pet medications, aiming for regulatory approvals in Singapore and the US. They are partnering with institutions like HCA Hospice Care, Singapore’s largest home hospice care provider, for initial product launches and are keen to collaborate with investors, regulatory specialists and pharmaceutical professionals to further commercialise their product.

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