The Science Cities Research Alliance has seen a number of spinout companies formed to commercialise successful Warwick research findings from the three associated SCRA technology programmes – Advanced Materials, Energy Futures and Translational Medicine. David Haddleton is a Professor of Chemistry at Warwick, specialising in new methods of polymer synthesis and catalysis. He is also co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Medherant Ltd, a bioadhesives company specialising in transdermal drug delivery.
Medherant was founded in 2014 to commercialise research into polymeric bioadhesives, and in 2015 the company signed an exclusive license agreement with Bostik, which supplements Medherant's capabilities to develop a new generation of medicinal patch technologies.
Professor Haddleton has been involved from the beginning with Science City Research Alliance, as one of the original proposal writers for the regional investment in Advanced Materials:
“Before the project was funded, we put it to the Regional Development Agency that Advanced Materials didn’t just mean making large items such as cars, which usually involve highly robotic manufacturing. To support and create the maximum number of skilled jobs, we felt we should research and commercialise new materials for use in things like mobile phone batteries, medical devices and drug delivery. These enterprises would create a higher rate of employment for the region than huge facties with a handful of people and lots of robots.
“20 years ago I was involved in developing hydrogel electrodes for ECG testing and defibrillation. We helped to develop adhesives that stick to the skin but come off without any pain, leave no residue and, importantly for the application, conduct electricity.”
Biomedical adhesives are now used extensively, from simple plasters to procedures where surgeons can “glue” patients back together, in place of using stitches and sutures. David wanted to produce adhesive transdermal patch-based products to improve patient experience, enhance safety, increase efficacy and bring economic benefits to the healthcare system.
David and his team started talking to Bostik, which had no substantial bioadhesive division. What they did have was a breakthrough patented, heat and moisture curable pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA), developed for industrial purposes – Congo. David’s team discovered that Bostik’s adhesive had the characteristics needed for bioadhesive transdermic drug delivery and Medherant partnered with Bostik to take the project forward.
“There are only a limited number of existing polymers that have the right characteristics to work in transdermal patches - that will stick to the skin and not leave residues,” says David. “There are also only a limited number of pain relief drugs that will dissolve into these polymers. There are several patches made by big names in the pain relief industry which surprisingly don’t contain any pain relief at all, they simply soothe the body by warming it.
“We discovered that certain pain relief products would dissolve in the polymer Bostik had developed, and that we could get over 30% of the drug into the adhesive. So, in practice, once our patch is applied to the skin, the medication dissolved in it will leave the adhesive, go across the skin and into the body. We can achieve the similar results with several popular pharmaceuticals.”
There is a massive market ready for patches such as these, and it seems patches are an accepted way to treat ailments.
“We think people are quite used to using patches such as these, topically, and once they know our new patches contain active pain relief ingredients, we think they’ll be keen to try it,” says David.
Medherant secured funding from Mercia Fund Management to start a lab in March 2015 on the Warwick Science Park. Trials started in May to demonstrate that drugs dissolve in the polymer; that the patches stick to the skin; that the drugs move into the body, and to look at the rate at which they are transferred across the skin.
So, what does the future hold for Medherant?
“We’ll take on extra funding and that’s when we’ll go into full scale production,” says David. “Hopefully we’ll get the product on the market around 2 years from now. We’re currently looking at novel therapies such as antibiotic delivery for combatting superbugs such as MSRA. We’ll hopefully move onto researching and producing many more innovative things that can be delivered by our drug-delivery platform.”