Transdermal patches – a maturing bio imprint application ?

Kimberly Clark (UK) may be targeting the $3B transdermal patch market, using imprint technology.


Michael P.C. Watts

It looks to me that Kimberly Clark (UK) are targeting the $3B transdermal patch market using imprint technology in a new development program with imprint supplier – Obducat (Sweden). Kimberly-Clark is one of the world’s largest paper companies, who have been acquiring medical companies over the last decade.

In my experience, one of the key milestones in the maturation of a new application occurs when the end user commits significant money to implement providers in the supply chain, and that the capital equipment manufactures is the first of these investments. The joint press release stated “The target of the collaboration is to create a pilot scale NIL (Nano Imprint Lithography) solution to produce unique Kimberly-Clark devices. The application will remain undisclosed for the time being. A ramp into volume production is targeted provided that the development activities reach agreed performance criteria.”

I have discussed bio applications of imprint in blogs and in papers several times in the past. There has certainly been plenty of research publications; in the field of microfluidics, sensors, tissue growth scaffolds etc. So which application has finally clicked ? This is where the practice of “laying open” patent applications can be very useful. For many years, we only saw patents after they issued, typically 3-4 years after submission. Now they are laid open 18 months after filing.

I searched of US patent applications and found one assigned to Kimberley –Clark, in which the specification described the use of the Obducat imprint system. The odds are this is the application that is being targeted. The patent describes new designs for transdermal patches. Conventionally there are only 3 ways of getting drugs into a body; swallow a pill, inhale, or injection. There a few drugs that can be adsorbed through the skin, however the skin is a well-designed barrier system.

The idea of a transdermal injection with micro-needles has been around for a while, and is a very attractive idea. It would not hurt, could be left on for a long time allow continuous delivery of a drug giving much better control inside the body. It’s a simple idea that is challenging because the bodies rejection system is triggered by the needles and causes local inflammation.

The Kimberly Clark patent describes the use of nano-patterned surfaces to enhance the transmission of drugs through the skin, and the use of micro needles with nano-patterned surfaces to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. They describe the use of geometric surface patterns, and the use of bio-mimicking surfaces in which a specific protein surface is created and then copied using imprint.

In one of the examples in the patent, a patterned plastic film is pulled over a set of micro-needles to create a needle with a nano-patterned surface. The Obducat system is particularly well suited to the creation of a nano-patterned film.


Figure from USP application 20110270221

In my view, we can now add transdermal patch to the list of commercially funded development (as opposed to research ) applications for imprint that includes; semiconductor lithography, LED, patterned media for hard disks and now transdermal patches. The critical question for imprint watchers, and investors, is when will one of these jump and join cell phone optics and roll to roll optical films as production imprint manufacturing applications ?

About the Author

Mike Watts has been patterning since 1 um was the critical barrier, in other words for a longtime. I am a tall limey who is failing to develop a Texas accent here in Austin. I have a consulting shingle at www.impattern.com.

My blog “ImPattering” will focus on the latest developments in the business and technology of patterning. I am particularly interested in trying to identify how the latest commercial applications evolve.

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