Jagged Little Pill: Drug Delivery Through the Use of Microneedles

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Delivery of large protein biopharmaceuticals may now be administered orally with the help of microneedles, according to researchers at MIT.

Many biopharmaceuticals such as antibody therapy require subcutaneous injections or infusions for proper absorption in the body. This type of administration is usually required because, if taken orally, many of the products become degraded in the stomach before uptake.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced in a press release that they have devised a novel drug capsule coated with tiny needles to deliver large-molecule biopharmaceuticals. This drug-delivery method would effectively prevent the breakdown of biologics in the stomach and inject the drug payload directly into the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

“This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug,” said Giovanni Traverso, a research fellow at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and one of the lead authors of the paper, in the press release.

The researchers said when the pill reaches the digestive tract, the pH-sensitive coating surrounding the capsule (and the needles) dissolves, allowing the drug reservoir to be released directly into the lining of the stomach. The drugs would expel out of the needles via the help of the peristaltic action of the GI tract.


To test their microneedle pill, the scientists used insulin as the drug payload in pigs. There was no evidence of tissue damage in the pigs, and their blood glucose level dropped much more quickly than it would have with subcutaneous injection, according to the scientists. The pill was found to be safe and well tolerated, the researchers asserted.

“The kinetics are much better, and much faster-onset, than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration,” noted Traverso. “For molecules that are particularly difficult to absorb, this would be a way of actually administering them at much higher efficiency.”