Imagine a future in which patients don’t need to remember to take each dose of a medication, because their healthcare team has prescribed a long-acting “smart” formulation that remains dormant in the body until needed.
That’s the vision described by Adah Almutairi, Associate Professor in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Center for Excellence in Nanomedicine at UC San Diego. Almutairi was the keynote speaker on Wednesday at the 53rd ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting’s Spotlight on Science session, Smart Feedback Drug Release: Because Drugs Don’t Work on Patients Who Don’t Take Them.
Almutairi said her research team is experimenting with the use of nanoscale polymer shells to deliver drugs and diagnostic technology “in ways that are smart enough to respond to disease.” The tiny polymer shells, she said, can interact with cell-surface receptors but must be engineered in ways that produce a stable system that’s sensitive to the patient’s internal chemistry — which is very challenging.
“But we have been able to achieve this,” she said.
Almutairi described how her research team tested the technology for the delivery of antivascular endothelial growth factor therapy in the eye, which is used for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration.
She said the current treatment requires patients to undergo intraocular injections several times each year to deliver sufficient medication to the eye to limit disease progression.
The nanopolymer system also requires an intraocular injection, but the polymer shells release the drug only in response to the presence of reactive oxygen species in the eye.
That leaves much of the initial dose available for later release in response to active signals of disease.
“The polymers are still around a year after injection,” Almutairi explained.
The research team has also had positive results using nanopolymer technology to diagnose inflammation indicating the presence of cancer, edema, gout, and rupture-prone arterial plaque in animal models.
She said the team has confirmed in multiple scenarios that the polymer shells activate only when needed and don’t prematurely release their medication or diagnostic cargo.
Almutairi said challenges remain before this type of technology reaches clinicians’ hands. Ultimately, she said, smart medication platforms could enable patients to automate their drug delivery in much the same way that they automate their banking transactions.
Before Almutairi took the stage, ASHP President Kelly M. Smith congratulated winners of the ASHP Research and Education Foundation’s annual literature awards, including the Award for Sustained Contributions to pharmacy literature.
Smith also acknowledged Wednesday as the national day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush by calling for a moment of silence in his memory. Bush died on November 30.