Vaccines given with a painless skin patch rather than needles are a step closer after Australian innovators secured a deal with international vaccine manufacturer Merck.
The Nanopatch, developed by University of Queensland Professor Mark Kendall and his bioengineering and nanotechnology team, uses 100 times less vaccine than a syringe and is smaller than a postage stamp.
The technology is being commercialised by an investor-backed company, Vaxxas, formed in August 2011, but the partnership with Merck has injected extra research funds and potentially opens up a suite of vaccines to eventually be used with the patch.
Merck, the international distributor of the Gardasil HPV vaccine pioneered by Australia's Professor Ian Frazer, will initially fund Vaxxas to evaluate the Nanopatch for use with one of its vaccines.
'This is an essential step for Vaxxas because for the first time we have a partnership with one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers,' Prof Kendall told AAP on Monday.
He said the deal validated the development of the Nanopatch, which was selected by Merck from a field of about 40 other international technologies.
Vaxxas raised about $15 million last year to commercialise the Nanopatch technology.
This process will involve several rigorous testing phases to ensure the patch is effective and safe.
The patch had already been tested in animal models and would move into human clinical trials within the next two years, Prof Kendall said.
'If everything works well, quite possibly this could be on the market within the next five to seven years,' he said.
The Nanopatch delivers a vaccine to the skin via thousands of densely-packed projections invisible to the human eye.
Prof Kendall said the skin had an abundance of immune cells and was ideal for delivering a vaccine, compared to the needle-and-syringe approach which injects antigens into the muscle, where there were fewer immune cells.
The patch could also be useful in developing countries as its dry-coating vaccine technology may eliminate the need for refrigeration during transportation and storage.
Under the deal, Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, will pay an upfront fee and provide additional funding for Vaxxas to validate the Nanopatch with one of its vaccines.
Vaxxas will be eligible for further payments if Merck exercises its right to use the Nanopatch for vaccines in two additional fields, and on the completion of milestones.
It will also receive royalties from the sales of Merck vaccines delivered via the Nanopatch.