The skin patch – currently in development at Queen’s University in Belfast – contains thousands of ‘microneedles’ that painlessly penetrate the skin’s top layer.
Once in contact with the skin, the needles turn into a jelly-like material that keeps the holes open and - unlike traditional tablet ingestion - allows delivery of antibiotics directly into the bloodstream.
“One of the biggest problems is that the huge majority of [antibiotic] drugs are taken orally…this means that a small quantity of the compound often finds its way into the colon, creating the perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria,” said lead scientist Ryan Donnelly.
“We hope to show that this unique antibiotic patch prevents resistance development,” he told us.
“If we are successful, this approach will significantly extend the lifespan of existing antibiotics, allowing for development of the next generation of antibiotics,” he added.
Initial studies have been published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, and the scientists hope this drug technology will be used to treat bacterial injections within five years, following further tests.
'Breakthroughs needed now'
Professor Colin Garner, chief executive of Antibiotic Research UK told us he was encouraged to hear of innovative research targeting antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
“We are already at a situation where 12,000 people in the UK alone die as a result of antibiotic resistance and the scenario of fatalities from something as simple as a scratch and routine hospital operations being cancelled for fear of infections looms large,” said Garner.
"Make no mistake, breakthroughs in new medications or delivery systems to replace archaic antibiotics are needed now,” he added.
Garner agreed intravenous administration is the treatment route of choice for most hospitalised patients with a blood, lung or urinary tract infection, adding: “The question is whether this microneedle approach offers advantages of intravenous administration.”
“Sparing gut bacteria from the effects of antibiotics is to be encouraged, but it remains to be seen whether this new research offers a practical way forward in the clinic,” he said.
According to Garner, a concerted drive from the pharmaceutical industry – backed by government and incentivisation – is “required urgently” to fund alternatives to current antibiotics.