Smiling and healthy man

Healing up close

Everyone knows how to swallow pills, but nowadays drugs can easily be administered with a patch. Freudenberg supplies the special nonwovens required for this.

Thermal patches used for treating back ailments are something that most Western Europeans will be familiar with. But the range of medical patches is actually much wider, a fact that is not generally well known in Europe. Current products include, for example, pain patches, hormone replacement patches, nicotine patches, patches that help alleviate asthma, as well as patches that nurses use to administer rivastigmine to Alzheimer’s patients or that doctors use to supply Parkinson’s patients with rotigotine. For cancer patients, there are even special patches that allow the gentle administration of painkillers. This segment is referred to as ‘transdermal products’. The term is derived from the Greek ‘derma’ for skin and the Latin prefix ‘trans’, meaning ‘to go over to something’. Worldwide, the market for transdermal products has a turnover of around 6.4 billion US dollars.

Topical Patch

Within this segment, however, a distinction needs to be made between different categories of transdermal products. ‘Topical’ patches are only intended to act locally, and only at the exact spot on the body to which the approximately 10x14 cm product sticks for 12 to 24 hours. For example, thermal patches warm only the area where they are in direct contact with the skin. Particularly in the case of large topical patches, it is very important for patients that the patch lies well, adapts to skin movement and feels pleasantly soft.


The picture shows a topical patch.

Passive Patch

A further important category is referred to as ‘passive’ and comprises patches in which the drugs enter the entire bloodstream through the skin. Because the active ingredients penetrate the skin without ‘active’ support, such as electronic impulses, this type of patch is called passive. Typical applications for patches of this kind are the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients, but they are also commonly used to dispense nicotine and hormones into the body.


The picture shows a passive patch.


Transdermal products enable controlled drug release

The great advantage of transdermal products becomes particularly apparent in the latter category: they enable the long-term, controlled release of drugs through the skin.

Transdermal Expert

"This is also one of their main advantages compared to tablets”, commented

Leonardo Graziadio, Sales Manager for the Medical Segment at Freudenberg Performance Materials in Weinheim, Germany.

Tablets involve a so-called ‘first-pass effect’: i.e., some of the orally administered active ingredient does not even reach the bloodstream but remains lodged in the liver and intestines. With a patch, on the other hand, controlled delivery over an extended period of 12 hours to four days is possible, Graziadio explained. Furthermore, patches do not interact with food intake, which can influence the effectiveness or concentration of the drug. There is a further advantage. As soon as the patch is stuck to the skin, no one needs to remember to take the medication on time. This is especially valuable for children or forgetful patients. In addition, most children do not like swallowing tablets. Graziadio: “The limits of passive application lie in the molecule size of the medication. If the molecules are too large, they cannot diffuse through the skin.”

Topical patches have a long tradition in Japan

Headquartered in Weinheim, Germany, Freudenberg Performance Materials supplies producers of transdermal products worldwide, such as pharmaceutical companies, with the necessary nonwovens. The Japan Vilene Company in Tokyo has been producing these nonwovens since 1991. Originally established mainly to serve the Japanese market, Japan Vilene Company has been supplying the European market as well since 2009. Freudenberg Performance Materials and Japan Vilene Company are business groups of the Freudenberg Technology Group. Together they consult and deliver customers globally.

Transdermal Expert

The fact that the production of these special nonwovens, mainly waterjet bonded nonwovens, is located in Japan has tangible historical and cultural reasons. In Japan, the use of external healing methods has always been popular and widely recognized. “Transdermal products were invented in Japan, which is perhaps one reason why the local application of patches is still so popular in Japan and across the entire Asian region”, explained

Yoshiki Matsuyama, Global Sales Representative Medical Products at Japan Vilene Company in Tokyo, Japan.


Germans rely on tablets and sprays, Japanese prefer patches and powders

In Japan, for example, it is common for someone with a headache to initially place a cooling patch on his or her forehead. Germans, on the other hand, are more likely to take pills, according to Peter Seez, a German doctor in Tokyo.

Medical Expert

The doctor of medicine is married to a Japanese woman, has lived in Japan for 30 years and has been working in a private practice there for 20 years. “The Japanese don’t like tablets and prefer to use powders, patches and, above all, alternative healing methods”, explained the 74-year-old internist and gastroenterologist. In Japan, it is customary for children suffering from asthma to receive their medication via patches, while in Germany sprays and inhalation are the norm. According to Seez, so-called ‘Kampo’ medicine, in which medicinal plants such as ginger and cinnamon in powder form are used, is also very popular in Japan, and the doctor does not administer high-dose synthetically produced drugs.

Dr. Peter Seez, Owner, Tokyo Medical & Surgical Clinic

Seez: “We know, for example, that cinnamon has an anti-inflammatory effect. The powders used in Kampo medicine may sometimes be enough on their own and also do not cause the same levels of tiredness.” Overall, the Japanese are very interested and educated when it comes to matters of health. There is a lot of reporting on medical topics in the Japanese media. The public TV station NHK alone broadcasts a 45-minute health program every morning. Many Japanese also practice yoga before and during working hours. As Seez has observed over the years, “A typical morning begins with 15 minutes of yoga at six o’clock, then at nine o’clock many Japanese do another five minutes of exercise, at work as well.” Another ritual is the daily bath. After warming your body in the bath, it is customary to go to sleep in a cool bed. As Seez explained, “This warm-cold contrast significantly improves the quality of sleep.”


The market for passive patches is growing in Europe and the USA

Does this all mean that the Japanese live healthier and longer lives than Germans, for example? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), average life expectancy for people born in 2015 is 83.7 years in Japan. This makes the land of the rising sun the world leader, followed by nations such as Switzerland with 83.4 years and Singapore with 83.1 years. By contrast, the average life expectancy of Germans is ‘only’ 81 years. According to Seez, there are still regions in Japan where people live particularly healthy lives.

Okinawa Beach, Japan

The southernmost Japanese island of Okinawa, incidentally the home of karate, is one such place.
On the other hand, there are regions on the northern island of Hokkaido where the population often suffers disproportionately from diseases such as high blood pressure and stomach cancer due to an excessively salty diet. “The diet of the Japanese has adapted to global trends, both good and bad. Less salt in the miso soup, maybe, but more fast food”, Seez explained. In addition, nutrition in Japan is now significantly richer in protein. For example, milk used only to be available in 150-milliliter bottles: “At the beginning of my time in Japan, my height of 1.76 meters allowed me to see from one end of the car to the other in the subway. Over the intervening years, the Japanese have become much taller.”

In return, Western Europeans and Americans are showing a strong willingness to be inspired by Asian healing methods in particular. This is something that Yoshiki Matsuyama has observed. He has been responsible for the US transdermal products business for Freudenberg’s Japanese subsidiary Japan Vilene Company in Durham, North Carolina, since 2004: “The transdermal products segment is one of Freudenberg’s growth markets in Europe and the USA. Passive transdermal products in particular, with which drugs can be administered through the skin, are experiencing increasing acceptance across these regions.”






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