20 October 2014

Professor Mark Kendall, an inaugural ARC Future Fellow at The University of Queensland, is  a pioneer in needle-free immunisation technology that promises to eliminate the need for needles and syringes for vaccine delivery. 

Professor Kendall heads a team responsible for the development of the ‘Nanopatch’, a breakthrough technology that is a bit like a postage stamp that sticks on the skin and delivers a vaccine directly to the body’s immune system.

“The Nanopatch is just as effective as needle-based mechanisms,” said Professor  Kendall.

“In fact, it is potentially better because the skin is abundant with immune cells—a  real ‘sweet spot’ for the stimulation of immune reactions, meaning less vaccine  is required.

The Nanopatch also has the advantage of not needing refrigeration  during transportation and storage, because the vaccine is dry-coated to the patch, unlike liquid in traditional syringes.”

In 2009 Professor Mark Kendall received funding through the ARC Future Fellowships scheme, the first round of the scheme, to develop his Nanopatch technology. The  research and development under his Future Fellowship led to spin-out company Vaxxas.

Professor Kendall co-founded Vaxxas with $15 million  in capital investment—one of the largest investments in an Australian start-up  biotechnology company. The Nanopatch technology has also been licensed to  US-based pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.

It is research that has been noticed nationally and  internationally. Professor Kendall’s research group received the Eureka Prize  for Research by an Interdisciplinary Team in 2011 and also won the 2011 Australian Innovation Challenge.

In recent exciting news, Vaxxas, on 16 September 2014, signed an agreement with the World Health Organisation to trial the Nanopatch  delivery system for polio vaccines—it is hoped this agreement will assist to move the technology through the next stage of clinical trials.

Currently, polio vaccines are  delivered around the world in liquid form and administered either orally or  through a needle and syringe. Polio cases are reportedly on the rise again in  global hotspots, especially war zones;  it is thought that this is partly due to the need for the vaccine to be stored appropriately and administered by trained medical professionals.

This is where the promise of the Nanopatch may revolutionise medical practice across the globe.

One of the most important features of this vaccine delivery system is that it does  not require either refrigeration of the product, or administration by highly-trained medical personnel. These features are of significant benefit in developing nations, where the safe and effective delivery of life-saving vaccines is a  challenge for the medical community.

Professor Kendall said the new partnership with the WHO has the potential to be a game-changer for polio vaccines.

“We are delighted that the WHO has selected the Nanopatch for partnership in testing for improved polio vaccines. 

“Success opens the way for a joint clinical programme that could ultimately lead to the widespread global utility of the Nanopatch in improving the reach of effective vaccines—for polio and beyond.”

It is clear to see that Professor Kendall’s research profile has grown considerably in recent years and the outcomes delivered are having a huge impact across the globe.

“Things are moving quickly…there has actually been an explosion of media that has covered  our technology.”

The Nanopatch technology still needs to be proven in humans, but Professor Kendall has a clear goal; he is determined to forge ahead to ensure the product is available  for use in delivering vaccines around the world in about five years.

“This is our ultimate goal—and yet all the while there’s the need to  keep an absolute focus on quality research and in continuing to pursue key questions of interest.

“There are so many good fundamental questions that we still need to explore.”

And while Professor Kendall is making a large impact on the research front  nationally and internationally, he acknowledges the role the ARC has played in his research career to date.

“The ARC has played a huge role in supporting my research to translational outcomes; the Future Fellowship has powered all of this.

“Once you know you have serious longer term backing, you can make commitments. Also, when setting up collaborations, people want to know the structure of your funding and so the Fellowship becomes part of the narrative.

“The prestige associated with a Future Fellowship is well recognised in the Australian context, and I think it is well recognised in the UK too.

“This ARC funding allowed me to build a successful science foundation, upon which I  founded Vaxxas in 2011—with $15 million of investment from a venture capital consortium—to prove the Nanopatch in the clinic and demonstrate that it can be made in large numbers at low cost.”

The  Fellowship has allowed Professor Kendall to assemble an international research  team and he passionately notes the importance of mentoring our future  generation of researchers.

“Within my research group there are people from  many walks of life—we are truly an  interdisciplinary team.

“PhD students and postdocs are the lifeblood of  your research and your team. One of the joys of my research is seeing how a  research student can progress so remarkably in a short time.

“Outside of that we have excellent established collaborators—Professor Ian Frazer here at The University of Queensland, Professor  Lorena Brown at The University of Melbourne, who is an expert on vaccinology,  and Professor Michael Roberts, a dermatology expert at the University of South  Australia, just to name a few.”

And recently this extended to Professor Kendall  leading the Queensland node of the recently-awarded ARC Centre of Excellence for Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology. This Centre, based at Monash  University is led by Professor Thomas Davis and draws on many other Chief  Investigators from The University of Melbourne, The University of New South  Wales and University of South Australia.

“Also, we have international linkages with teams at  the University of Washington, at Oxford and Harvard.”

With the Nanopatch seemingly poised to  revolutionise vaccine delivery around the world, Professor Mark Kendall has  become a new torchbearer for Australian research internationally.

One thing is for certain, this is clearly just the  start of an extensive and distinguished research programme with enormous  potential for impact and public benefit.

For  more information about the Nanopatch please contact Professor Mark Kendall or view this presentation.


Image: Professor Kendall holding a nanopatch.
Image credit: Kendall/D2G2 Group