Facilitating Global Innovation & Partnering

Press Releases

Biology-Inspired Drug Delivery

June 28, 2018

In 1947 Dr.Sidney Farber, founder of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, dedicated his work to finding a drug treatment for childhood leukemia. At the time, cancer treatments took two forms:

• Surgery to cut out cancerous masses
• Radiation therapy to burn them out

Cancers that couldn’t be removed or irradiated – either due to their position in the body, they had spread to multiple sites, or like leukemia and lymphoma, they are involved blood cells – were essentially untreatable.

The mission for an ideal cancer treatment has led to the exploration of a variety of platforms to facilitate highly desirable and efficient drug delivery. While chemotherapy (the treatment of cancer with chemical drugs) remains one of the most effective weapons against cancer, there is a need to steer the compounds to their required sites using site-specific drug delivery vehicles.

This has inspired the investigation of various natural particulates and biomaterials for that purpose. Bio-inspired platforms that directly mimic natural components in the body have demonstrated their ability to serve as one of the most versatile and innovative drug delivery systems in cancer therapy and diagnosis. The primary advantage of this innovation lies in the fundamental changes in systemic biodistribution that non-native drug delivery does not possess.

One example of this phenomenon is exosomes. Exosomes are naturally occurring, nanoscale membrane vesicles between 40 and 100 nm in size that carry proteins and RNA for intercellular communication. They are increasingly seen as possible alternatives to liposomes as drug delivery vehicles. Like liposomes, exosomes could deliver their cargo across the plasma membrane and provide a barrier against premature transformation and elimination. Exosomes have a natural ability to carry functional biomolecules, such as RNA, DNA, and proteins. Moreover, exosomes can be attached to nanoparticles and used for high precision imaging. Exosomes are now considered an important component in liquid biopsy assessments, which are useful for detecting cancers, including lung cancer.

In addition, these naturally-occurring secreted membrane vesicles are less toxic and better tolerated in the body as evidenced by their ubiquitous presence in biological fluids, and have an intrinsic homing ability. They are also amenable to in vivo and in vitro loading of therapeutic agents, and membrane modifications to enhance tissue-specific homing.

Interest in exosomes has grown recently, as can be seen in patent activity. Between 2005 and 2010, only 11 patents were filed pertaining to work with exosomes. Between 2011 and May 2018, over 275 patents have been filed pertaining to work involving exosomes (US, EP, WO). Over 60 100 patents have been filed pertaining to work with exosomes since January 2017.

Some of the companies and institutions conducting work on exosomes include:

• University of Osaka
• University of Kansas
• Northwestern University
• Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology
• MyriadGenetics
• Exocyte Therapeutics
• Rohto Pharma
• Shionogi & Co.

Ultimately, exosome-mediated drug delivery may offer a solution to overcome important challenges in the field of therapeutics, such as delivery of drugs across otherwise impermeable biological barriers (e.g., the blood-brain barrier) and using patient-derived tissue as a source of individualized and biocompatible therapeutic drug delivery vehicles (e.g. cancer).

For more information or assistance on identifying new opportunities in the area of drug delivery, please contact Shala Doerr to further discuss your needs.

Shala Doerr
Director of Business Development
(703) 531-0257