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An exciting Melbourne start-up has developed a highly novel non-invasive device that could avoid the need for intraocular injections to deliver drugs to the eye.

This non-invasive technology promises a safer, more comfortable, and convenient treatment option for the tens of millions of people across the world that are affected by retinal blood vessel diseases, such as Macular Degeneration and Diabetic Macular Edema.

Invented by Mark and Harry Unger through their startup MuPharma Pty Ltd together with ANFF-VIC Director, Professor Nicolas Voelcker, the technology has now successfully completed proof of concept trials at the Monash Biomedical Imaging Centre; work funded by the Medical Devices Partnership Program Victoria (MDPP Vic), supported by LaunchVic.

The conventional treatment for retinal diseases involves regularly injecting drugs with a hypodermic needle directly into the vitreous jelly that fills the back of the eye. This procedure can be uncomfortable, painful, and disruptive to the patient whilst also adding risks of infection, retinal detachment, and increased pressure within the eye.

Instead of using a needle and syringe, MuPharma’s new approach uses an ultrasound-based, handheld device that is loaded with a routinely-injected drug. The treatment is administered by briefly holding the device against the eye to enable the drug to pass through barrier tissue at the surface. The eye’s natural blood supply then carries the medicine to the diseased retinal areas.

The process is over in a matter of minutes, eliminates the major risks associated with intravitreal injections, and is likely to require less drug per treatment than conventional injection procedures. In contrast to existing alternatives, MuPharma’s treatment doesn’t necessarily need to be administered by an eye specialist and patients could potentially drive and work shortly afterwards. This all combines to provide patients with a convenient, comfortable, and painless treatment option.

The technology continues to be refined with help from ANFF- VIC, where development has been underway for almost a decade. Engineers at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN) have iteratively prototyped and characterised the device’s essential components, worked with third-party product designers, hosted a “live-in” intern, and assisted with the proof of concept testing. This included cutting edge characterisation of device core operating parameters and loading and release profiles.

Follow on testing conducted by the Monash Biomedical Imaging Centre was able to validate that the MuPharma device could non- invasively deliver a significant amount of Avastin (a large antibody conventionally delivered by intraocular injection) to the eye relative to controls. Further advanced testing is currently underway.

The potential of the device has already been recognised by MDPP Vic, who have supported the device’s development and brought together a team of consulting experts which MuPharma’s founders can call upon.

As commercialisation of the technology continues, the Ungers are working with experts at the MCN and MDPP, as well as with a team of drug delivery specialists led by Professor Nicolas Voelcker to optimise the device.

“The last year or so has seen our device’s development sprint forward despite a global pandemic,” said Mark Unger, Managing Director of MuPharma. “This progress wouldn’t have been possible without the support of ANFF, the MCN, as well as MDPP Vic and our research collaborators in the Voelcker Group.

“Now, having extensively demonstrated the capabilities of our technology, we’re excited to continue working with these groups to bring our device to market and providing patients with retinal diseases a means of treatment that eliminates regular intravitreal injections.”