New oral films could revolutionize drug delivery for patients

Conventional ways of administering medication - by swallowing tablets, consuming bitter syrups, injections or rectal insertions - could be distressing and unpleasant for some patients, especially young children or the elderly. A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Chan Sui Yung, Honorary Fellow at the Department of Pharmacy under the Faculty of Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), has recently developed easy-to-use oral films that enable painless, efficient, and discreet drug administration.

This patient-friendly drug delivery method is now being commercialized through an NUS start-up PharLyfe+ founded by Assoc Prof Chan and her students, Dr Tan Poh Leng and Ms Chua Qi Shan, who are the Business Lead and Clinical Lead of PharLyfe+ respectively. The start-up is supported by NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP), a venture creation program which encourages NUS researchers and postgraduate students to start their own deep-tech companies.

The novel oral film releases drugs into the bloodstream via the mucosal membrane - the moist, inner lining of the mouth. Each oral film can be easily placed onto the inner cheek of the patient's mouth, and medication will be released into the bloodstream over pre-determined period of time.

This method of medication administration reduces the risk of choking, aspiration, and rejection. Moreover, the manufacturing method of the films eliminates dosing errors commonly associated with multi-dose bottles of liquid medicine.

Patient-centric, personalized drug delivery

Our oral film marks a significant milestone in patient-centric and personalized medicine, offering a safer and eco-friendly alternative to traditional drug delivery methods. The film is very easy to use, so patients are empowered with dignity and independence in managing their treatment from the comfort of their homes. We look forward to collaborating with healthcare providers to develop and apply the oral films to improve patient care and treatment outcomes."

Associate Professor Chan Sui Yung, Honorary Fellow, Department of Pharmacy under the Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore (NUS)

Each oral film is very thin and round, and it comes in two sizes - 10- and 20-cent coin sizes - making it convenient to be carried around, distributed, or stored in larger quantities at healthcare institutions. Additionally, the films have a low water content, so they have a longer shelf life compared to compounded liquid medicines, hence they could be a reliable option for patients and healthcare providers.

The team's first oral film product will focus on administering medications for patients suffering from end-of-life delirium and anxiety. The process of treating end-of-life symptoms can be painful as injections are often administered, when comfort care should be the top priority. "We hope that our solution can help improve the quality of care for these patients," said Ms Chua. The film may also benefit epileptic patients, with more studies underway.

A sustainable and cost-effective solution

The oral films are easy to produce. Each film comprises a customized premix of ingredients formulated for a specific medication. These ingredients are added to the drug solution, and an accurate volume of the required drug dosage is pipetted onto a mould. The resulting mixture is dried using a light-duty oven. This method of production uses fewer ingredients and smaller quantities of materials compared to traditional drug-delivery methods, particularly those that require costly, single-use applicators and devices such as syringes, needles, inhalers, and auto-injectors.

Without the need for bulky packaging, or the use of dosage-measuring devices such as syringes and spoons, which are made of plastic and supplied with each treatment course, the oral film is therefore more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

Dr Tan, whose PhD work focused on oral films, explained, "Our films are compounded on-demand to ensure that they contain the precise dosage and strength for each patient, and then sealed in minimal packaging. This streamlined approach to drug delivery not only saves time and money, but also reduces the environmental impact."

Associate Professor Lita Chew, President of the Singapore Pharmacy Council, and a clinical faculty member at NUS Pharmacy who is not involved in the start-up, said, "The innovative approach to compound prescribed drug into oral film is a game-changer for delivery of medication, especially to segment of populations that have difficulty taking traditional dosage forms such as tablets, capsules, syrups and injections. I look forward to the day when the oral film premix kits can be extended to home use, like the many self-test kits on pharmacy shelves."

Future plans

The NUS team has filed a provisional patent for this innovative approach. Currently, the researchers are developing and evaluating their film products for different medications, such as for antidotes, general medication, and medication for pets, to prepare for regulatory filing in Singapore and the United States of America.

They plan to supply the premix of the oral film to healthcare institutions for pharmacists and clinic staff to prepare oral film medications when doctors prescribe them to patients. HCA Hospice Care is one of the healthcare institutions whom they partnered for the initial launch of their ready-to-market package comprising facilities set-up and staff training for preparing film medicines using PharLyfe+ premix.

The team also aims to work with investors, regulatory experts, contract manufacturers, and pharmaceutical marketers to commercialize their technology.

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