When people think about vaccinations, some may be overcome by the fear of needles. But is there a pain-free way to get that critical shot?
That is what Singapore-based pharmaceutical firm iX Biopharma has set out to do. Its WaferiX technology, which the company conceptualised in 2008 and filed for a patent in 2010, led to the development of amorphous and non-ionic wafers that dissolve under the tongue to release medications, where they are absorbed by tiny blood vessels and brought directly into the circulation system.
The company is now developing a second generation of WaferiX wafers to deliver vaccines sublingually. As most infectious agents enter the body via the mucosa (nose, mouth and throat), sublingual vaccines have the potential to generate strong mucosal immunity, prevent infection and halt virus transmission from person to person.
Then, there is the issue of getting the drug to the patient. “Some vaccines, such as the Covid-19 vaccine, require ultra-cold storage, making it hard to transport,” says Mr Eddy Lee, 68, founder of iX Biopharma. The company is ranked 20th in Singapore’s Fastest Growing Companies 2023 list by global research firm Statista and The Straits Times.
Using WaferiX for vaccines may eliminate the need for cold storage, particularly useful for developing countries which may not have ultra-cold facilities.
And unlike intravenous vaccines, administering sublingual vaccines does not require specially trained staff.
Mr Lee founded iX Biopharma in his quest to roll out a drug delivery technology that combines the advantages of intravenous and oral options. The WaferiX technology was developed in 2010 in Australia and its first sublingual wafers were manufactured in Melbourne three years later.
The wafers provide an alternative to not just intravenous administration through drops and injections, but also oral ways through tablets, pills, capsules and softgels.
Used for pain management
As the medication is injected directly into the bloodstream, intravenous methods are considered the fastest drug delivery method. Oral delivery, while painless and non-invasive, is considered less efficient as some of the medication is lost due to liver metabolism.
Sublingual delivery of strong painkillers can be tapped to manage pain in cancer patients, who may not be able to ingest medications due to nausea and vomiting.
“Through WaferiX, the bioavailability of the drugs is improved and more predictably and consistently delivered to the body,” says Mr Lee.
Today, iX Biopharma’s sublingual wafers expand the medical defences in the fight against ailments. There is Wafermine, the first sublingual wafer containing ketamine, to treat patients suffering from severe acute pain. Wafermine has completed phase two trials and is ready for phase three ones.
Driving revenue growth
With the exponential jump in demand for healthcare products and solutions, iX Biopharma reported robust growth despite headwinds posed by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Revenue grew by more than six times from $246,000 in 2018 to $1.75 million in 2021. Its customers are hospitals and pharmacies in Australia and consumers in China.
The company registered an eightfold rise in revenue to $14.4 million in the following year, citing growth from its WaferiX technology including the out-licensing of Wafermine and other sublingual pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products.
An experienced entrepreneur, Mr Lee founded the company with only two full-time staff and three consultants. Today, its over 50 employees include scientists, medical professionals and pharmacists.
It began trading on the Singapore Exchange in 2015, and has offices in Singapore, Australia, China, Ireland and the United States, which are its key markets.
In 2021, iX Biopharma took another great leap forward, licensing Wafermine to Seelos Therapeutics, a US-based pharmaceutical firm trading on Nasdaq.
It received an initial payment of US$9 million, comprising US$4.7 million in cash and 2.57 million shares in Seelos.
The company is also eligible to receive up to US$239 million in development and sales milestone payments, as well as double digit percentage royalties on all future product sales.
Over the next five to 10 years, iX Biopharma will focus on product development, targeting the treatment of certain symptoms experienced by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients, as well as vaccine delivery.
The global Parkinson's disease drug market is projected to reach US$8.4 billion by 2030, from US$5.5 billion in 2021, according to QY Research as reported by Biospace.
iX Biopharma also intends to ramp up its range of nutraceuticals, which are nutritional and medical supplements derived from natural food sources, eyeing the US$4 trillion wellness market in the US.
Other new treatments that use WaferiX include Wafesil, to counter male erectile dysfunction, and Waferest, a sleep aid under its Entity nutraceutical product range.
Another factor underpinning iX Biopharma’s success is its exceptional staff talent.
“We believe that having the best scientists in research and development allows us to innovate for the future, and having the best sales and marketing people gives us insight into the trends of tomorrow,” Mr Lee says.