We became aware of Vitropep recently – the company was a finalist in several prestigious deep tech programmes including Hello Tomorrow and AdMaCom. They have developed a new form of drug delivery using peptide based microneedles. The company’s innovative transdermal injection systems tackle key challenges that needle injections have, including pain (and subsequent fear) and waste. Research has indicated that a quarter of adults and two thirds of children have strong fears of needles, with pain a key factor. Needle waste, which is dangerous and has to be incinerated or autoclaved, contributes to the millions of tonnes of medical waste produced globally each year.
Vitropep provide an alternative to conventional injections, using a transdermal patch embedded with soluble microneedles, where the peptide drug is solidified as a needle. This allows stabilised, high loading injections with the added benefit of reduced dangerous waste and painless injection.
The technology was developed from a chance development by founder Dr Christophe Tarabout. While undertaking his postdoctoral research at the Max-Planck institute in Potsdam, Germany, he discovered a method to produce dried amorphous peptide materials. Later, he was able to control their size and shape. From here the idea of developing microneedles was born, with Vitropep founded in 2022. Dr Tarabout is no stranger to peptides, also having completed his PhD in characterisation of self-assembled peptides nanotubes.
Speaking with Dr Tarabout, he emphasized that preventing crystallisation of the peptide is key . And why is this so important? Because it ensures that the solidified and stabilised peptides remain water-soluble, allowing them to effectively deliver the required drugs within the body. The whole microneedle dissolves in the skin, preventing dangerous waste production. A mould is used to control the size of the microneedles with an ideal length of 100 – 1,000 microns. Keeping the microneedles to this size ensures that the nerves are not touched resulting in painless injection. Their microneedles are placed onto a patch, which is put on the skin and injection of the relevant drug is administered. Sounds perfect, but further studies on drug delivery are ongoing and clinical trials will be needed before we see Vitropep being administered at the hospital!
It’s early days for Vitropep – the technology is patented (as of August 2023) and a “proof of concept” of the injection system has been completed. The Vitropep team is currently looking towards further testing for long term stability and diffusion studies of their needles. The company is looking for additional investment for the next stages of their development, to allow them to complete these further studies, prior to moving towards clinical trials.
Vitropep aim to collaborate not only with Pharmaceutical companies, but to work alongside small start-ups and other biotechnology companies assisting with formulation. Exploring other peptide drugs is key and they are hoping to expand their portfolio of peptides.
Vitropep have performed well in incubator and start-up events, earning recognition as finalists at Hello Tomorrow, AdmaCom and Wilco, and were one of two winners for the Novo Nordisk Gold ticket prize in Paris. We’ll certainly be watching their progress!
Images courtesy of Vitropep