Caltech, Zcube Collaboration Will Bring Painless Transdermal Drug Delivery to Patients

Zcube Srl, a research venture of the Italian pharmaceutical company Zambon, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have signed an exclusive research and option agreement to develop and commercialize skin patches that contain embedded carbon nanotubes for delivering drugs. The patches will first be developed to painlessly administer drugs through the skin; other applications are envisioned for future use. Mory Gharib, Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and professor of bioinspired engineering, is the principal investigator at Caltech.

A key aspect of the new skin patches is an innovative technique that partially embeds the nanotubes into the flexible materials in which they are grown. This embedding technique allows one end of each nanotube to be anchored to the patch, while the other end protrudes from the patch to deliver drugs to the skin. Gharib's technique, which allows for the anchoring and alignment of the nanotubes, neatly overcomes a previous technological shortcoming and will enable new methods of drug delivery. It is envisioned that this approach will help these therapeutic nanotubes make their way to patient bedsides in a variety of medical applications.

An important benefit of the new patches is that they are painless-the nanotubes' diameter is too small for nerves in the skin to detect. It is also believed that drugs can be delivered more effectively via nanotubes than via current microneedle or traditional patch technologies because the sea of nanotubes in the skin patches can be dosed and designed for optimal effectiveness, efficiently delivering drugs across the densest layers of the skin. The nanotube-studded skin patches will therefore address an important medical need by releasing drugs more quickly, effectively, and deeply into the skin without causing pain.

"This innovative technology, based on nanoneedles, will change the administration of drugs through the skin," says Lorenzo Pradella, general manager of Zcube. "The exceptional properties of these devices-their mechanical strength, electrical and thermal conductivity, chemical inertness, and the way the skin can tolerate them-will allow us to do things with transdermal drug delivery we never dreamed of doing before."

"This is a promising new medical application of carbon nanotube technology that has the potential to deliver medication painlessly and more effectively than current drug delivery technologies," says Gharib. "We are hopeful that this collaboration will result in significant medical benefits for millions of patients worldwide."

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Zcube is a global leader in translational medicine, with a strategic focus on the development and commercialization of novel drug-delivery systems (DDS) and medical devices. As the research venture of Zambon Company S.p.A., Zcube validates and invests in early-stage innovative technologies with the potential to generate new products and new technology ventures in therapeutic areas of strategic interest. Zcube has already established collaborations with universities in the United States, Europe and Israel.  Zcube is also a limited partner of Mission Bay Capital, LLC, the venture fund bolstering the fund's ability to invest in promising bioscience companies emerging from the University of California, and is a member of the Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) Industrial Advisory Board in San Francisco. Zcube is among the investors in three start-up companies: PharmEste Srl (Ferrara, Italy), SuppreMol GmbH (Munich, Germany) and ProtAffin Biotechnologie AG (Graz, Austria). For further information please visit

The California Institute of Technology
 The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a small, private university in Pasadena that conducts instruction and research in science and engineering, with a student body of about 900 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students. Recognized for its outstanding faculty, including several Nobel laureates, and such renowned off-campus facilities as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the W. M. Keck Observatory, and the Palomar Observatory, Caltech is one of the world's preeminent research centers.