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Interesting but evidence-free story on ibuprofen skin patch

Ibuprofen patch heralds side effect free drug future (01:56)

An ibuprofen patch that delivers the painkiller directly through the skin to the site of pain, at a consistent dose for up to 24 hours, has been developed by UK researchers.


Scientists at the University of Warwick and spin-off company Medherant say their TEPI patch could revolutionize the transdermal drug delivery market.

University of Warwick research chemist Professor David Haddleton told Reuters that the polymer matrix in the patch acts as a reservoir for the drug, capable of releasing between five and ten times the amount of drugs used in gels and patches currently on the market, for periods of six hours, 12 hours, and even 24 hours.

“What we do is dissolve the active ibuprofen, for example, into the adhesive so we can have quite a high loading – so up to 30 percent of the adhesive will be the ibuprofen,” said Haddleton. “When that’s placed on the skin just like an elastoplast then the drug will actually diffuse across the skin into the body at the site of the pain and then relieve the pain in the same way as current gels and creams. We’re controlling the dosage and we’re keeping it there for a prolonged period of time.”

The patches could help treat conditions like chronic back pain, neuralgia and arthritis without the need to take potentially damaging doses of the drug orally. The team says that popular ibuprofen gels make it difficult to control dosage and can be easily rubbed off.

Although TEPI patch remains highly tacky and adheres well to skin, it is not uncomfortable to peel off, unlike many traditional plasters.

According to Andrew Lee, co-founder of Medherant, “we’ve only been in the lab about 12 months, but in the 12 months we’ve essentially assessed about 90 percent of the drugs that are currently available as either creams or patches. We’ve tested them in our polymers with very good results, we’ve been able to get increased loadings of drugs in the polymer and we’ve shown almost across the board that we can get a steady release rate of that drug from the polymer as well.”

The team says TEPI patches could go on sale within three years, and Medherant is working with some large, unnamed, pharmaceutical companies to get them ready for market.

Haddleton says the technology has exciting potential for other medications, such as opioid painkillers. “What’s important is to be able to extend the range of drugs that are available by patches because at the moment we’re limited to about 20 different drugs, and there are thousands of drugs out there, and only about 20 are used in patches at the moment, which is limited by the technology of the adhesive, essentially,” he said.

Lee told Reuters that many commercial patches do not contain pain relief agents at all, and merely sooth the body with a warming effect. He said Medherant’s technology would eliminate most side effects created by oral medication.

“One of the interesting areas that we plan to explore in partnership with large companies is actually using our platform technology to include other drugs that previously maybe haven’t been suitable for topical or transdermal delivery – or drugs which may have not got through the regulatory filings because, for instance, they might have caused stomach irritation or other side effects when taken orally,” said Lee.

The TEPI patch incorporates new adhesive technology developed by global adhesive company Bostik. Lee believes ibuprofen strips could be useful for sports participants, helping alleviate conditions such as tendonitis, and repetitive strain injuries. Nutrition companies have also shown an interest in adapting Medherant’s technology for transmitting minerals and vitamins through the skin.

Ibuprofen patch heralds side effect free drug future

Our Review Summary

To begin with, the headline of this story is a little much: a “side-effect free future” with this patch? Surely, we can’t dispense entirely with oral ibuprofen even if this patch were to deliver everything it promises. And while it makes sense that transdermal delivery would reduce stomach-related side effects, do we really know if this approach will eliminate other possible side effects that aren’t related to the GI tract — for example related to cardiovascular risk? The advantages of the TEPI patch (this apparent acronym is never spelled out in the story) over existing products on the market sound impressive and believable — although very little evidence is given to help us assess the quality of these claims.


Why This Matters

The promise of transdermal drug delivery has been on the horizon for decades and the TEPI patch is the latest iteration. Ibuprofen and the other NSAID’s are safe and effective for the vast majority of people taking them. People with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis are at risk for side effects because of the relatively large doses taken orally. In theory, a patch could reduce the likelihood of these side effects but the proof is simply not there yet.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

We’ll rate this N/A since the patches are still in development for the consumer market. Having said that, we should point out that generic ibuprofen is very inexpensive.  It is very likely that the TEPI system will cost the consumer much more.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story is full of superlatives but provides absolutely no information on how the TEPI patches were tested.  All of the information provided appears to be related to results in the lab and not on people.  We are told, “…capable of releasing between five and ten times the amount of drugs used in gels and patches currently on the market, for periods of six hours, 12 hours, and even 24 hours.” How long do current gels and patches last? How much medication do they release? Is is important to be able to achieve the higher dosages discussed in this story? While it all sounds very impressive, the reader isn’t provided enough information to tell if any of these results are meaningful.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story provides no information on the potential side effects of this method of drug delivery. Ibuprofen is a drug and all drugs have side effects. It sounds like the TEPI patches will have the same possible side effects as topical gels or other patches, which are mostly limited to irritation on the skin and other minor issues. It is claimed that the TEPI patches cause little discomfort, but how was this assessed?

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

It is not at all clear how the advantages of TEPI patches over current products on the market were established.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease-mongering here.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


No independent sources were interviewed. The two sources that were interviewed for this article were both disclosed to be affiliated with the company Medherant, producer of the TEPI patches. Since the use of transdermal patches has been around for decades, it should have been relatively easy to identify experts in the field.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


There was a decent amount of discussion about alternatives like ibuprofen administered orally or topically as a gel.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story tells us the the patches are expected to hit the market in three years, but the information comes direct from the company and isn’t independently verified. Given the stage of development for this technology, three years sounds like a very aggressive timeline given the need for clinical validation of the assumptions made and the need for regulatory approval.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story establishes what’s new about the patch compared with existing transdermal technologies, including that it might be applied to drugs that previously haven’t been suitable for this approach.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


It’s clear that some original reporting was done in an interview, so the story does enough to clear our bar. That being said, the end result doesn’t seem to be much different than this December 2015 news release.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory


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