Needle-free COVID-19 vaccine
shows promise

UQ has delivered the Hexapro vaccine candidate from the US with the Vaxxas high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP).

Researchers to left and right of screen wearing full protective gear, looking at a double computer screen, with green light backdrop

Technicians working with the high-density microarray patch in the Vaxxas cleanroom. Credit: Vaxxas

Technicians working with the high-density microarray patch in the Vaxxas cleanroom. Credit: Vaxxas

A needle-free COVID-19 vaccination could be possible, with University of Queensland scientists successfully protecting mice from the virus by administering a US-developed vaccine candidate with a ‘patch’.

The University of Texas Hexapro vaccine candidate – delivered via the UQ-developed and Vaxxas-commercialised high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP) – provided protection against COVID-19 disease with a single, pain-free ‘click’ from a pocket-sized applicator.

Dr David Muller, from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said the vaccine patch produced strong immune responses that were shown to be effective when the mice were exposed to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.

“When the Hexapro vaccine is delivered via HD-MAP applicator – rather than a needle – it produces better and faster immune responses,” Dr Muller said.

“It also neutralises multiple variants, including the UK and South Africa variants.

“And it’s much more user-friendly than a needle – you simply ‘click’ an applicator on the skin, and 5000 microscopic projections almost-imperceptibly deliver vaccine into the skin.

"The UQ team, together with Vaxxas, hope to take the technology to the world and are looking for funding opportunities to accelerate to clinical trials as soon as possible."

Dr Muller said that Hexapro, delivered by the high-density microarray patch, could dramatically assist global vaccine rollout effort, particularly for billions of vulnerable people in low- and middle-income countries.

“We’ve shown this vaccine, when dry-coated on a patch, is stable for at least 30 days at 25 degrees Celsius and one week at 40 degrees, so it doesn’t have the cold chain requirements of some of the current options.”

Dr David Muller wearing a white coat and blue gloves holding the high-density microarray patch up near his face as he faces the camera
Closeup of high-density microarray patch showing the inside of the circular item

High-density microarray patch (HD-MAP)

High-density microarray patch (HD-MAP)

Vaxxas was founded in 2011 by UQ’s commercialisation company, UniQuest, following research at the University's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

President and CEO of Vaxxas, David L. Hoey, said he was extremely excited about the findings.

“These results are extremely clear – vaccination by HD-MAP produces much stronger and more protective immune responses against COVID-19 in model systems than via needle or syringe,” he said.

“We thank and recognise our incredible research collaborators at UQ for these important findings.

“The prospect of having a single-dose vaccine, that could be easily distributed and self-administered, would greatly improve global pandemic vaccination capabilities.”
President and CEO of Vaxxas, David L. Hoey
UQ Phd candidate Ms Jovin Choo applying vaccine to a Vaxxas high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP).

This study was funded through an Advance Queensland Industry Fellowship in partnership with Vaxxas and Technovalia, with vital contributions from Professor Nigel McMillan and Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute.

The research is currently in peer review and has been published in BioRxiv (DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.30.446357).

A video media release is available via Dropbox.

Media: Dr David Muller, d.muller4@uq.edu.au, +61 401 858 518; Dominic Jarvis, dominic.jarvis@uq.edu.au, +61 413 334 924.

PLEASE NOTE: The Hexapro vaccine candidate is not associated with the molecular clamp vaccine candidate previously being developed at UQ.

HD-MAP technology being used on a person's arm

HD-MAP technology in use

HD-MAP technology in use

Laboratory equipment
Dr David Muller and associates in the lab, with Dr Muller holding up a container with purple-coloured spheres

The UQ research team, featuring (foreground, L-R) Dr Chris McMillan, Dr David Muller, (background, L-R) Dr Alberto Amarilla, Dr Naphak Modhiran Ortiz and Ms Jovin Choo.

The UQ research team, featuring (foreground, L-R) Dr Chris McMillan, Dr David Muller, (background, L-R) Dr Alberto Amarilla, Dr Naphak Modhiran Ortiz and Ms Jovin Choo.

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HD-MAP technology being used on a person's arm

HD-MAP technology in use

HD-MAP technology in use

Laboratory equipment
Dr David Muller and associates in the lab, with Dr Muller holding up a container with purple-coloured spheres

The UQ research team, featuring (foreground, L-R) Dr Chris McMillan, Dr David Muller, (background, L-R) Dr Alberto Amarilla, Dr Naphak Modhiran Ortiz and Ms Jovin Choo.

The UQ research team, featuring (foreground, L-R) Dr Chris McMillan, Dr David Muller, (background, L-R) Dr Alberto Amarilla, Dr Naphak Modhiran Ortiz and Ms Jovin Choo.