Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of a shot. Studies have found that needle anxiety keeps people from getting important medications, like the flu vaccine, and can even stop people from taking self-injected drugs to manage chronic illnesses.
That’s a problem that Portal Instruments hopes to solve with its needle-free injection system.
“By the time you are done with the injection, the patient doesn’t really realize that he or she has injected a drug,” CEO Patrick Anquetil told Drug Delivery Business News.
While a traditional needle and syringe takes approximately 10 seconds to complete an injection, Portal’s product gets it done in one-third of a second.
The young company has evolved fast, growing out of its existing space and expanding its 35-person team into the first floor of the former-warehouse that it occupies in Cambridge.
Portal’s progress is paralleled by the company’s rapid prototyping strategy, which Anquetil said is a philosophy borrowed from his time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Our philosophy is that the only way we compete is with speed,” Anquetil said. “Because everything else is stacked against us. We’ve got an improvement product in a proven market with a team that’s working together for the first time. So the only way we can survive is if we move very, very fast and beat our competition in speed. Oftentimes with a small company that doesn’t have a lot of money, speed really is the only thing that can make a difference.”
Companies have long sought after a needle-free injection platform as a solution to the anxiety people harbor about giving themselves shots. First-generation devices, according to Anquetil, all had the same problem: the jet was uncontrolled, leading to a sharp pain at the beginning of the injection and delivery challenges for high-volume drugs.
Portal’s product, which the company in-licensed from MIT, uses an electromagnetic linear activator to control the liquid jet in real-time, reacting to the product’s viscosity.
“The premise is that we’re transforming the experience that the patient feels because he or she doesn’t have to deal with any needles. It’s not only just the injection, it’s looking at the needle before you’re doing the injection, and then disposing of the needle when you’re done,” he added.
There are other advantages to Portal’s injection system, Anquetil noted – since there are no needles involved, patients and caregivers don’t have to worry about needle-stick injuries that easily occur with a needle and syringe.
And biologics, powerful drugs that have changed the landscape of medicine in recent years, are uncomfortable to administer via injection.
The products are often viscous and temperature-dependent, so they must be kept cold prior to administration. When the patient is ready to take the drug, traditional delivery devices usually require that the drug is warmed to room-temperature.
“So oftentimes, the patient is asked to wait for thirty minutes to do the injection. I don’t know who has thirty minutes in their lives – I know I don’t,” Anquetil said. “With our device, the package is quite thin, so it will warm up very quickly to room temperature. Then the device detects the viscosity and will adapt to it in real-time so you could literally take the package out of the fridge and then perform the injection right there.”
“What we are trying to do is fit into the patient’s life,” the CEO added. “At the end of the day, the patients don’t care about the injection, they only really care about feeling better and that’s where we want to help them with our device.”
The company is inching closer to getting its product on the market. It landed an exclusive $100 million deal with Takeda in November last year and is working with the pharmaceutical company to get their drug-device combination through the FDA’s approval process.
In the meantime, Portal is actively engaged in talks with other potential partners and plans to make “one or two other announcements” in the coming year, according to Anquetil.
“We have a platform technology and I think it’s reasonable to think that this is, as we like to say, a universal injection platform,” he said. “But we’re certainly 100% focused on biologics today.”