Hygienic socks help fight athlete's foot
Innovative Patent-Pending Invention to Treat Common Skin Disease Offers Fresh Alternative to Traditional Products
Athlete's foot — a common skin disease — is about to receive a new form of treatment, thanks to a hygienic sock developed by a team of scientists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).
The hygienic socks for patients with tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) using microencapsulation technology were awarded a gold medal at the 40th Geneva Invention Exhibition in 2012. The patent-pending technology will be available on the Asia IP Exchange (AsiaIPEX, www.asiaipex. com) once the patent has been finalized. Despite that, the technology has already been licensed out on a non-exclusive basis to Vincent Medical. An original equipment contract manufacturer that develops medical devices under Inspired Medical, Vincent Medical aims to release its product by the end of the year.
Joanne Yip, who along with Professor Marcus Yuen Chun Wah leads a team of co-investigators, said the team was keen to license out the technology to Vincent Medical, a subsidiary of Vincent Raya, because she felt "their senior management was highly supportive of this invention (being) commercialized".
Yip first met representatives from Vincent Medical at a PolyU press conference last year to announce the invention. The company's general manager was in attendance and was interested in seeing how they could collaborate to bring the hygienic sock to the market.
"We were interested because it's a good idea — a product that is convenient for the user and an alternative to what's on the market," said Laura Wong, marketing manager of Vincent Medical. "The benefit is that the drugs stay on the sock which means the user is treating their infection for 8-10 hours a day, which we believe is a real benefit to the patient."
While Vincent Medical first heard of the invention at a press conference, Wong said that a platform such as the AsiaIPEX is a welcome addition to companies such as Vincent Raya who are looking for opportunities to license and commercialize technologies.
"We are happy to have a platform that informs us of available technologies," Wong said.
AsiaIPEX, which was officially launched last year, is the region's largest free online platform for international intellectual property (IP) trading. More than 25,000 tradable IPs are listed on the portal, while AsiaIPEX has more than 7,500 members from over 120 countries and 23 strategic local and overseas partners, including PolyU.
From a scientist's point of view, Yip believes the convenience of AsiaIPEX is what makes it stands out. "It is easier for us to check information from different universities (on AsiaIPEX)," said Yip, who noted it would be useful for patent searches.
Athlete's foot is estimated to be the second most common skin disease in the United States after acne. Yip said that up to 15 percent of the population may suffer from the disease. Affecting the sole of the foot and the skin between the toes, athlete's foot is a form of ringworm associated with highly contagious yeast fungi colonies and often manifests as a scaly, red itchy rash and can occasionally be weepy and oozing.
While both non-pharmacological (such as keeping feet clean and dry and toenails trimmed) and pharmacological treatments are available on the market, Yip pointed to data showing these types of treatments fail to cure about one-third of patients, with relapses often occurring to poor compliance of topical medications. The hygienic socks with antifungal microcapsules were designed to develop a convenient and effective pharmacological treatment that would at the same time offer protection.
The socks comprised three main properties. A textile material that manages moisture as the sock is being worn, while antifungal agents encapsulated within microcapsules grated onto the textile are released to pharmacologically treat the infection. Designed to be worn daily, these hygienic socks utilize microencapsulation technology to increase the success rate of curing patients with athlete's foot, while minimizing the chance of a relapse.
As Yip investigated this issue, she ran into several challenges, including how to effectively encapsulate anti-fungal drugs into microcapsules. Yip also had to ensure that the drugs are released to the skin and to calculate the amount of drugs required to treat the areas. After solving these problems, Yip knew she wanted to commercialize the technology through licensing.
"Our invention can be used by the public and gives them an option to treat tinea pedis," Yip said, adding that the technology also has additional applications, such as in cosmetic and medical textiles.
For Vincent Medical, the next task is developing a method for mass production.
"It's a challenge of production," Wong said. "We have to take PolyU's method and transfer from the lab side to the mass production side. We need to consider the equipment required as well as some specialists with a background in chemistry. We also have the challenge of proper testing to ensure we are producing a quality product."
Yip believes that Hong Kong's reputation as an innovation hub is growing, in part due to support from various programs and initiatives, including the government's Innovation Technology Fund. Still, Yip believes that scientists need to take better advantage of commercialization opportunities.
"(My advice is to) join different exhibitions and give seminars to the public in order to attract potential investors," Yip said. "The research team should really prove the invention is workable, a benefit to society and show the invention's high market value. Listing on the Asia IP Exchange is another great way to get your technology out to potential investors and an opportunity to reach interested parties from around the world."