Johnson & Johnson has won approval in Europe for a novel pain relief product that uses an electric current to deliver painkilling medications across the skin.

The product, called Ionsys (fentanyl hydrochloride) Iontophoretic Transdermal Syndrome, has been approved by the European medicines Agency to provide acute post-operative pain relief for patients in hospital.

The patch product is expected to be a popular alternative to conventional patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) devices, which consist of a programmable pump, a pole and connective tubing, which are attached to the patient via an intravenous line into their arm. Ionsys is less invasive for patients, yet still allows them to control their pain relief, unlike other forms of analgesia such as intramuscular and intravenous injections.

J&J’s Janssen-Cilag unit will sell the product throughout the European Union, with launch expected in 2007. Ionsys is also under review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The first product to reach the market using an iontophoretic delivery system was Iomed's Iontocaine (lidocaine), an anaesthetic product used to provide localised pain relief for minor surgical procedures, which debuted in the 1990s. In 2004, Vyteris launched its LidoSite (lidocaine and epinephrine) product for similar applications. However, Ionsys is thought to be the first systemic application of the technology.

Analysts have suggested that Ionsys could garner sales in excess of $250 million a year at peak.