New Skin Patch Delivers Pain Relief with Ibuprofen

By Pat Anson, Editor

There are many different types of skin patches already on the market to treat pain --- containing everything from lidocaine to capsaicin to powerful opioids like fentanyl. Now British researchers say they’re a step closer to developing the first transdermal patch containing ibuprofen.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have formed a company called Medherent to produce and patent an adhesive patch that can deliver a high dose of ibuprofen through the skin for as long as 12 hours to treat conditions such as back pain, arthritis and neuralgia.

Their patch differs from others already on the market because the medication is embedded into the polymer matrix that sticks the patch to the patient’s skin. The embedding technology allows the patch to contain 5 to 10 times the amount of analgesic currently used in medical patches.

"Many commercial patches surprisingly don't contain any pain relief agents at all, they simply soothe the body by a warming effect,” says University of Warwick research chemist Professor David Haddleton.

image courtesy of medherent

image courtesy of medherent

“Our technology now means that we can for the first time produce patches that contain effective doses of active ingredients such as ibuprofen for which no patches currently exist. Also, we can improve the drug loading and stickiness of patches containing other active ingredients to improve patient comfort and outcome."

The researchers are now testing other analgesics to see if they too can be embedded into the polymers. So far they’ve had good results with methyl salicylate – a wintergreen-scented chemical used in some topical liniments and gels.

“We believe that many other over the counter and prescription drugs can exploit our technology and we are seeking opportunities to test a much wider range of drugs and treatments within our patch," says Haddleton.

In an email to Pain News Network, Medherent’s CEO said the technology is compatible with a wide range of drugs, including opioids. The company is currently seeking partners to help develop the patches.

"Our first products will be over-the-counter pain relief patches and through partnering we would expect to have the first of those products on the market in around 2 years,” said Nigel Davis. “In addition to our pain relief products, our technology also works with drugs in many other therapeutic areas. We can see considerable opportunities in working with pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative products using our next generation transdermal drug-delivery platform."

Adding opioids to the mix is tricky business, because some opioid patches already on the market are being abused. According to CBCNews, transdermal patches containing fentanyl are blamed for over 600 deaths in Canada. Addicts have learned they can cut up fentanyl patches to smoke or ingest them  

Asked if Medherent’s patch technology would prevent similar abuse, Davis said, “We hope so but need to do more work on that before we make claims of that sort. “

Decision on Opioid Implant Nears

Meanwhile, Titan Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TTNP) has announced that the Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a meeting with the company next month to discuss its new drug application for Probuphine, an implant containing buprenorphine, a weak acting opioid used to treat addiction.

Ironically, some addicts have learned they can get high by abusing buprenorphine and it is prized as a street drug that can ease withdrawal pains from heroin. Buprenorphine, which is more widely known under the brand name Suboxone, is currently only available in pills and oral films.

The Probuphine implant would be difficult to abuse. About the size of a matchstick, it is designed to be inserted subcutaneously under the skin of the upper arm, where it can release steady doses of buprenorphine for as long as six months.

Titan and its partner, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, believe the implant technology could someday be used to deliver other medications, including opioids for pain relief.

image courtesy of titan pharmaceuticals

image courtesy of titan pharmaceuticals

Probuphine’s path to the marketplace hasn’t been a smooth one. Braeburn and Titan were stunned in 2013 when the FDA denied approval of the implant and asked for a new clinical study of Probuphine’s effectiveness. Since then, the companies have conducted a study showing that the implant was more effective than buprenorphine tablets in treating addiction. The companies are hoping for FDA approval in 2016.