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Wearing your medicine

Features | June 8, 2020 | By:

The future of drug delivery via clothing is here.

by Janet Preus

Presentations at IFAI’S Smart Fabrics Conference in April reflected a range of topics in the growing field of smart fabrics. In a session titled, “Clothing: The Next Frontier for Drug Delivery,” Nufabrx founder and CEO Jordan Schindler explained that we could soon make our clothing choices, not based on color, price or brand, but on their ability to deliver medicine.

Nufabrx has developed and launched a technology that provides controlled delivery of pain relief through a wearable, such as a compression sock. Photo: Nufabrx. 

“Why are we taking a pill when our foot hurts?” he asks. Everyday clothing is actually one of the best ways to solve patient compliance in taking medications as prescribed, he believes, because the clothing itself can impart controlled does of vitamins, supplements or medicines. Schindler says that the company’s patented technology makes it possible to adjust the placement and amount of medicine, as prescribed. “We can be very strategic where it’s placed,” he says. “A wool sock could be 10 percent pain relief yarn, for example.”

How it works

It has taken a team that Schindler called “an interesting mix” of textile designers and others with the technical expertise to impart controlled release of medicines in the textile. The medicine is actually added to the yarn, which is then knitted or woven into the fabric for a specific type of garment. 

When the clothing containing the medicine is sitting on the shelf, it releases nothing. It’s the contact with the skin that triggers the release of the medicine. “It needs the heat and moisture of the skin, so it can be designed to release a fairly precise amount during an eight-hour day,” he says. “What you have is a comfortable, soft garment with the benefiting medicine located where it’s needed.”

The active ingredients last for 25 wash cycles, a number that was set in order to meet the FDA standards for proven pain relief, although he says there still is some benefit at 30 washes, and after 25 washes, “You still have a standard garment.” 

Extremes in hot or cold weather also do not have a significant impact on the product, although consumer perception changes. The company has made a point of creating a product that does not feel sticky, have a nap, or an odor. “It has to feel like a normal garment,” he says. Comfort is important, but he says that “one of the biggest things that came out of our studies is all around safety compliance.” 

One of the advantages of wearing clothing containing the medicine needed is that patients may be more likely to continue taking it. “If a doctor recommends you use a treatment, and you start to feel better and don’t keep it up, you don’t get the benefit as intended,” he says. “If you don’t have to keep applying a cream, or taking a pill, then you continue to get the benefit as you’re wearing the garment.”

The initial focus for the company has been the pain relief market, but beyond prescription medications and pain relievers, there are other significant opportunities for textiles—those imbedded with vitamins, beauty products and other over-the-counter personal care products. “With these products, the consumer is using the right amount,” he says. “That’s harder to do when you just put a cream on your skin, for example.”

There’s also the potential for military use because of the problem for a soldier in carrying extra medications. “They’re just not going to do it,” he says. 

Market examples

The product has commercialized examples already in the market place. Venom Sports has sewn a pain relief patch in the sleeve of an existing product. Other products, such as a knee brace with pain relief in it, have been rolled out by the company nationwide. There is also interest in post-surgical treatments, such as a compression garment. 

Consumer products such as braces or compression sleeves, available in many retail outlets, are all designed for pain relief, “but none of it has a pain reliever in it,” he says. This is where the company expects to be going next. 

In the meantime, it has pivoted, as have so many others, to making masks to protect against the COVID-19 virus. 

Jordan founded Nufabrx, an innovative technology company focused on controlled delivery of active ingredients (vitamin, supplement, medication) through clothing; he has spent the past several years developing proprietary technologies with chemists that allows active pain ingredients to be embedded into yarn. The company received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Defense and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology University (MIT). 

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