When pipelines run dry, pharmaceutical companies are more likely to investigate alternative delivery methods as a way of distinguishing their drugs in the marketplace. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed several intriguing delivery methods created by researchers around the world. I recently wrote about the new technique of encapsulating medicines in magnetite nanoparticles for repeated, long-term delivery. Along similar lines, scientists at Queen Mary, University of London have created “micro shuttles” that can be loaded with drugs and opened remotely.
The researchers created micrometer-sized capsules by wrapping metabolism-resistant material around spherical particles that they later dissolved in acid. The scientists filled the empty capsules by heating them in a solution that contained the drug compound. Heat made the capsules shrink, thereby trapping the drug inside. These capsules can be inserted into live cells through electroporation (i.e., the administration of a small electric shock).
In one experiment, the researchers exposed capsules to an infrared laser beam. The laser changed the structure of nanogold particles in the capsule and released drug into the host cell, which was unaffected by the laser beam. The capsules could also be made to release drug in response to a biological trigger such as a drop in blood sugar.
The researchers said that their technique could deliver DNA for gene therapy or insulin to manage diabetes. I imagine that it might also deliver small molecules. The capsules can be designed to be stable in the body to protect drugs that are easily degraded and store them for later use.
Like the magnetite nanoparticles, the micrometer-sized capsules are not ready for use in humans, but they seem full of possibility. To some patients, administration through electroporation might be more palatable than that through injection. This delivery method could enable various release profiles and might be appropriate for acute and chronic conditions.
Developments such as this are encouraging reminders of researchers’ ingenuity. One day, drugmakers and patients alike might benefit from this work.