By Samantha Black, Ph.D.

September 12, 2019 -- The use of nanoparticles in the pharmaceutical industry is a topic of hot debate among scientists. At the 4th Annual Peptide Drug Design and Delivery Summit, August 27 -29 in Philadelphia, PA, researchers discussed the merits and challenges of incorporating these molecules into therapies.

The medical applications of nanotechnology in the medical and pharmaceutical industries range from biosensors, microfluidics, drug delivery, microarray tests, to tissue engineering. Nanomaterials are defined in the size range of 1 to 100 nm. These particles can move relatively freely in the human body compared to traditional therapeutic molecules. Nanomedicine is an emerging field of research and scientists are now able to design nanomaterials to deliver therapeutic agents to targeted site in a controlled manner. Several researchers discussed their efforts at the event.

Michael Mitchell, PhD, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, is working on developing cancer vaccines, with the goal of delivering genetic material into target tissues and cells. His work involves designing biomaterials to make current therapies safer and more effective for patients. To achieve this, molecules are encapsulated with nanomaterials which can ionize upon entry into target cells. The lipid-like molecules used for encapsulated are sourced from an original library created by Michael-addition chemistry. This allows the researchers to easily screen molecules that will be most effective at targeting cancer cells.

Another company is using nanoparticles in an entirely different way. Starpharma has several products in late clinical trials that utilize their DEP® dendrimer product. This is essentially a nanoparticle (polylysine) which is loaded with additional molecules for drug delivery. The technology achieves covalent bonding to conjugate small molecule proteins and targeting moieties within cGMP commercial manufacturing standards. The resulting product has been shown to improve the pharmacokinetics while decreasing the cytotoxicity of therapeutic molecules. The company is currently exploring the use of imaging in nanoparticle therapeutics, and combination nanoparticle therapies.

Several speakers at the event emphasized how nanotechnology can benefit the delivery of peptide drugs to increase efficacy and improve patient outcomes. It was mentioned several times that nanotechnology is necessary to eliminate cancer or "make cancer a chronic disease" as Rakesh Dixit, PhD, President & CEO at Bionaviden, said in one afternoon session. But there are significant challenges that exist to get to this point.

Some materials scientists and pharmaceutical chemists addressing concerns with the development of nanoprecipitation techniques to produce nanoparticles in the lab. They are designing drugs with the technique that have increased bioavailability of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in oral drug formulations as well as formulations with delayed release profiles. The researchers use a variety of polymers to optimize conjugation with small proteins and targeting molecules. They believe that this technology could be scaled up in a commercial setting to produce nanomedicines.

During a panel discussion on the second day of the summit, the status of nanotechnology in the pharmaceutical industry was debated. The room was split, with some arguing that innovation and research take time, with several decades often passing before commercial products become available. Others suggested that the huge investment into academic research, may not pay off due to serious limitations of nanotechnology, specifically, batch reproducibility and scalability. There was, however, a consensus among the group that nanotechnology is still in the early days of development and there is a great deal of work to be done!

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