A ‘golden age of innovation’ for drug delivery and development

An image to represent drug delivery and development.

As medical technology advances and new medicines are being developed, advances in new drug delivery methods are also beginning to be created.

As drug treatments and therapies continue to evolve, devices for drug delivery are also having to adapt and develop. Medication can be administrated directly through a variety of methods, such as orally, injections, and infusions. The method of treatment is relative to serval factors, including the type of disease, the desired effect wanted from the drug, and the products that are currently available at the time of treatment.

For example, historically there has been a challenge in the medical industry for the treatment of neurological diseases as a result of difficulties for drug delivery to the central nervous systems (CNS). This is because of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) which can limit the access of drugs to the brain substance. However, as a result of the recent development of biological therapies as a form of treatment for neurological disorders, innovative and sophisticated drug delivery methods have been required to be developed.

The’ golden age’

According to the 2019 ‘Drug Delivery and Packaging Report’ conducted by Pharmapack Europe, since 2017 the pharmaceutical industry appeared to be ‘entering a golden age of innovation’. This includes an increased productivity surrounding the development and innovation of technologies in drug delivery, as the rise of biologicals in turn results in the rise of unique mechanisms for drug delivery. It has been projected that by 2022 drug delivery in the form of injections will be worth over $600bn (~€530.8bn), with global companies such as those from the USA and Germany being one of the main driving forces in their innovation and development.

Injectable drug delivery is progressively becoming newer and more complex. For instance, injectable drug delivery methods were originally developed for the delivery of insulin and human growth hormones. However, technological advancements and innovations have led to the expansion of injectables across a variety of drug classes; such as reproductive hormones, immune modulators, and serotonin antagonists. Alongside being an effective method for those who do not like needles, the drug is able to work quicker as it takes less time to absorb and metabolise drugs taken in this way.

Low-frequency ultrasound

Suono Bio is currently conducting research on the use of low frequency sound waves as a tool for more effective drug delivery. The study focuses on inflammatory conditions that often require rectal enemas, such as bowl diseases and Crones disease. The research investigates whether ultrasound-guided technology can be used to push treatments more efficiently into cells by pairing liquid drugs with low-frequency ultrasound to create very small bubbles to push the medication directly into the gastrointestinal tracts tissue. Suono Bio have released the results of their pre-clinical trials which showed that this method of using low frequency sound waves can deliver up to 20 times more drugs in one minute compared to the use of an enema, whilst also requiring shorter and less frequent use of the treatment. Although ultrasonic therapies are traditionally difficult to control, if these trials become successful and validated, this research could arguably result in technology that can also deliver other molecules, such as proteins and DNA, directly into targeted tissue and cells. Despite ultrasounds typically using large devices, Suono Bio has also been investing time and money into the development of a small device that, at some point, may be able to result in a disposable version being developed.

The innovation of drug development in Europe has involved the growth of different ways for drugs to be self-administrated; such as pre-filled needles, needle-free delivery, and wearable delivery devices. However, although the opportunities and technologies for drug delivery is developing quickly, the reliability of and trust towards them needs to be far more established if drugs are to become more widely self-administrated in patients’ homes.

Oral insulin; the capsule with a needle inside

Traditionally, those with Type 2 diabetes would have to administer themselves with insulin via daily injections. However, recent research conducted at MIT by researchers Dr Giovanni Traverso and Alex Abramson et al, has developed a drug-capsule for oral use that encapsulates the needle instead. During animal testing, the study found that the capsules were effective in delivering enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels, comparable to those produced when injections are given directly through the skin.

In an interview with authors, subsequently published on the European Pharmaceutical Review website, it was explained that inside of the capsule, “the tip of the needle is made of nearly 100% compressed, freeze-dried insulin. The shaft of the needle, which does not enter the stomach wall, is made from biodegradable material. Within the capsule, the needle is attached to a compressed spring that is held in place by a disk made of sugar. When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the sugar disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall.

“The stomach wall has no pain receptors, so we believe that patients would not be able to feel the injection. To ensure that the drug is injected into the stomach wall, the researchers designed their system so that no matter how the capsule lands in the stomach, it can orient itself, so the needle is in contact with the lining of the stomach. It is important that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected. Also, if a person were to move around or the stomach were to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation. Once the tip of the needle is injected into the stomach wall, the insulin dissolves at a rate that can be controlled by the researchers as the capsule is prepared. In this study, it took about an hour for all of the insulin to be fully released into the bloodstream.”

As the pharmaceutical industry continues to grow, drug delivery devices are increasingly being challenged to keep up and adapt accordingly. Methods such as the oral insulin produced at MIT have a long way to go until they can be considered a leading treatment for diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. However, arguably they demonstrate how innovation may really be in its ‘golden age’, especially from the evidence so far collected during animal testing. Studies such as this and those previously discussed bode well for the future development of the pharmaceutical industry.

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