August 19, 2008 Singapore’s A*STAR continues to put the country on the technology map, this time with the news that the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) has perfected an innovative range of microneedles that can be mass produced more readily and at a much lower cost than current microneedle technologies. The microneedles can be made from plastics as well as conventional materials such as silicon and metal and offer unique structures for better drug delivery. Microneedles are a fraction of the size of hypodermic needles and hence can penetrate the skin enough to deliver the medicine (or extract bodily fluids) but miss the nerve receptors so they induce no pain. Combined with the appropriate electronics, they can be worn as a skin patch, for regular doses of drugs to be delivered automatically to patients.
The microneedles also come is a variety of designs, like those with side-ports that allow for smoother drug delivery and bodily fluid extraction as opposed to regular microneedles that have a single opening at the tip.
The potential for simple mass production and the unique microneedle designs were some of the factors that led to the birth of Micropoint Technologies Pte Ltd, a spin-off from A*STAR’s IMRE that will seek to develop and market the technology with partner, Sumitomo Corporation Asia.
“Microneedles are commercially available but they are still very expensive. Our technology has produced cheaper, easier-to-make plastic microneedles with unique structures that increase the efficacy of delivery,” said Mr Lim Chee Yen, the IMRE researcher who will be Chief Executive Officer of the spin-off company that will helm this technology.
Last week A*STAR’s commercialisation arm, Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd signed a licence agreement with Micropoint Technologies Pte Ltd to allow the company to develop, market and distribute the technology. Micropoint expects to roll out their first commercial microneedles in about two years.
IMRE’s range of microneedles, which can be as small as 0.1mm or larger than 1mm, are made from silicon, metal and plastic. The use of plastics, in particular, will make the microneedles more accessible to patients as plastics are easier and cheaper to process and manufacture than most other materials.
“At this initial stage we are targeting mass market, normal use such as lancet applications for the microneedles. Drug delivery applications will take time as these require strict protocols and extensive clinical trials to ensure the efficacy and safety of the product,” said Sumitomo Corporation Asia, Managing Director of Singapore Business Unit, Mr Shinya Matsuzawa.
Exploit Technologies is the strategic marketing and commercialisation arm of A*STAR with a mission to support A*STAR in transforming the economy through commercialising R&D.; Exploit Technologies enhances the research output of A*STAR scientists by translating their inventions into marketable products or processes. Through licensing deals and spin-offs with industry partners, Exploit Technologies is a key driver of technology transfer in Singapore. It actively engages industry leaders and players to commercialise A*STAR's technologies and capabilities, bridging the gap from Mind to Market.
Mr Boon Swan Foo, the Executive Chairman of Exploit Technologies said, “We see good potential in this drug delivery application, and have been actively partnering IMRE to bring microneedles from the lab to market. Exploit Technologies is delighted to have offered a competitive edge to a promising Singapore startup like Micropoint through the successful commercialisation of A*STAR technologies. It is also encouraging for Micropoint to receive such strong interest from Japan, and more so to have Sumitomo Corporation on board the company to realise the full commercial potential of the technology. Through this collaboration, we are confident that Micropoint can contribute to the vibrant and fast growing pharma industry in Singapore.”
A*STAR is Singapore's lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based Singapore. A*STAR actively nurtures public sector research and development in Biomedical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering, with a particular focus on fields essential to Singapore's manufacturing industry and new growth industries. It oversees 19 research institutes and consortia and supports extramural research with the universities, hospital research centres and other local and international partners. At the heart of this knowledge intensive work is human capital. Top local and international scientific talent drive knowledge creation at A*STAR research institutes.
The Agency also sends scholars for undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral training in the best universities, a reflection of the high priority A*STAR places on nurturing the next generation of scientific talent. A*STAR’s Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) promotes public sector research and development in science and engineering with seven full fledged, advanced research institutes that develop high-tech research in a wide range of fields including communications, data storage, materials, chemicals, advanced computing, microelectronics and process manufacturing. Six of the research institutes will be headquartered at the soon-to-be-opened Fusionopolis, Singapore’s iconic hub for science and engineering research to tackle global technological challenges and create future industries.