Graphic of SkinJect patch. Image courtesy of SkinJect.

The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated each year. Now a new development from SkinJect will provide better treatment for these types of cancer.

SkinJect, a Pittsburgh-based company formed in 2015, recently announced completion of a deal with the University of Pittsburgh to license a minimally invasive treatment for common forms of non-melanoma skin cancer such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma. Their invention is a small patch that kills cancer cells and stimulates an immunological response from the patient’s lesion, which can prevent the cancer from recurring.

The patch is believed to offer a less expensive, more effective alternative to conventional treatment methods, which SkinJect president and CEO Jim Nolan says can cost upwards of $3,500.

“There are certain things you can put on that burn the skin in that area, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” says Nolan. “You need surgery, which can be disfiguring.”

Nolan assumed management of SkinJect – which is primarily backed by his private equity firm Velocity Fund Partners – after it was brought to him by Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

“I immediately fell in love with the project because I worked extensively in dermatology before,” says Nolan, who, for 19 years, served as president and CEO of the Institutes for Pharmaceutical Discovery. “I recognized the real potential here.”

Developed by UPMC Department of Dermatology chair Dr. Louis D. Falo and Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor Dr. O. Burak Ozdoganlar, the thumb-sized patch uses tiny microneedles – all less than a millimeter long – to administer a common cancer medication known as doxorubicin. A doctor applies the patch to the patient once a week for three weeks during in-office visits. The microneedles dissolve within 15 minutes of application, delivering small, concentrated doses of drug to the top layer of skin.

Nolan believes that the SkinJect patch is revolutionary for skin cancer treatment and for the medical community in Pittsburgh, where there’s less of a focus on drug research.

“Pittsburgh traditionally has been more of a device entity, and I think this will put us on the map from a drug perspective,” says Nolan.

SkinJect plans to file an Investigational New Drug (IND ) application with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin testing the patch on humans by early 2017. Nolan explains that factors such as their use of a long-approved drug will lead to a shorter route to the marketplace, which can typically take up to eight years.

“Safety is not going to be the primary issue here. It’s really the efficacy,” says Nolan. “This could get approved fairly rapidly. And the fact that you’re replacing surgery, there’s an economic as well as an ethical reason to want to move the drug forward.”

Watch the video below to see how the SkinJect patch works.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.