Pharma Explores Business Opportunities for Nanotech
Pfizer, Northeastern University Researchers Say Nano Set To Boost Drug Development, Design, Delivery and even Post-Delivery MonitoringUniversity and corporate researchers increasingly agree that nanotechnology could be poised to help the pharmaceutical sector improve across-the-board – from development, design, delivery and even post-dosage patient monitoring. Nanotech2006 will host a number of experts in the field that will share their views of the upcoming Nano Pharma roadmap.
To offer a preview of the Nano Pharma track at Nanotech2006, Nano World News spoke with research executives from Pfizer Inc. and Northeastern University.
Nanotechnology for pharmaceuticals “is an evolving technology, and today we have very limited investment in this area,” said Dr. Mostafa Analoui, Senior Director of Pfizer’s Global Research and Development. But, that could be about to change. “However, we recognize the potential value of nanotechnology in many areas, including discovery, development, delivery and even post-delivery.“
Dr. Analoui will share his view of nanotech’s impact on the drug sector over the near-term (1-2 years), and even offer some glimpses into “what could be” over the very long term (as much as 15 – 20 years out). His talk is designed to share how Pfizer looks at nanotechnology at present, and he said he hopes to encourage an on-going dialogue with nano-professionals that will last well after the Nanotech2006 event.
“There are many exciting ideas and projects now underway in nano for pharma applications, but it’s unclear to us at this point how many [nano projects] will prove effective or financially viable,” Dr. Analoui told NWN. “I want to share our mindset with the audience, so that they can understand better how Pfizer is thinking, and perhaps that insight will help them better formulate their investment and research strategies.”
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has established the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) (http://ncl.cancer.gov) as a resource for small to medium size companies to have their nano products developed right up to the status of “New Drug Application filing stage.” The NCL is also charged with developing analytical methods that can be standardized so that we do not continue to re-invent the wheel.
Getting Started with Nano/Pharma: Nano-Formulations
The area of nanotech getting the most attention for practical benefits is nano-formulation.
“Nano-formulation could be critical to helping us achieve specific therapeutic characteristics for some compounds, for lowering toxicity and adverse effects of some drugs, and even improving their efficacy,” Dr. Analoui said. “Another benefit could be to help us create novel and innovative drug delivery [approaches] that would also help patients.”
Dr. Analoui confirmed that Pfizer has begun internal experiments with these approaches, but he hastened to add this work was at the early stages, and “not at a stage where we could like to make public disclosures.” Nonetheless, he did assert that Pfizer’s work on nano-formulations is encouraging: “What is certain here is that this approach is gaining acceptance and we see support for nano-formulation techniques for drug formulations and delivery.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Mansoor M. Amiji, Associate Professor and Associate Department Chair of Northeastern University’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said he is seeing the early benefits from nano-formulations for cancer patients. He points to two cancer drugs that have had their toxicity reduced thanks to nano-formulation compounds:
- Doxil is a long-circulating liposomal doxorubicin marketed by Alza (a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson). Doxil has been in the market for quite a while and has shown remarkable efficacy and decrease toxicity of doxorubicin, an anticancer agent which can damage the heart; and
- Recently-approved Abraxane, which reduces toxicity of paclitaxel, another anticancer drug.
Spurred on by these beneficial results, Dr. Amiji said he is seeing “a lot of synergism with biotech and pharmaceutical companies in formulation development,” and adds that Northeastern has begun licensing technologies to a number of drug-related companies. “For instance, we have a nano-emulsion system, which can allow drugs to cross the blood-brain barrier. This is a major breakthrough because a lot of drugs acting in the brain were not developed due to lack of penetration. The other area we are exploring is how to get larger molecules like proteins and peptides into the brain.”
Nano’s Longer-Term Pharma Future
Beyond nano-formulations, Drs. Analoui and Amiji are both watching the emerging theme of a nano-enabled drug “life-cycle,” where nano would impact design, delivery and especially post drug delivery monitoring of the drug’s effects.
Dr. Analoui said Pfizer researchers are openly asking the question: ‘Can nano/bio-techniques help drug companies combine diagnosis and therapy?’ He posits the following scenario: “In clinical trials today, it is common to use one set of agents for diagnosis and another set [of agents] for therapeutics and treatment. We would ask ‘Is it possible to combine these two entities using nanotechnology [techniques] into a single element that would improve our ability to achieve diagnosis and treatment, and even monitoring in real-time.”
Real-time monitoring after the drug is administered may sound like science-fiction, but Dr. Analoui says the idea holds many benefits, and is intriguing to Pfizer researchers. “If these approaches could be non-invasive, it would have tremendous value for the real-time clinical monitoring of patients,” Dr. Analoui said. “It’s often difficult to get patients in a general population to return to the hospital for regular monitoring, but having such data could help us get much richer data on how efficacious a drug is across thousands or hundreds of thousands of applications.”
Dr. Amiji shares this futuristic view of nano-enabled drug sensors: “Imaging is starting to become quite hot and so a number of companies will combine drugs and imaging agents to have a system that can provide efficacy data in ‘real time’.”
Dr. Amiji sees more progress in the future, where nano-formulation techniques will improve efficacy through bioavailability (better absorption into the body). “Baxter, Elan, and other companies are using nanotechnology to produce drugs that have better oral absorption profile,” he said. Another important nano-formulation benefit could be “combining multiple drugs in one ‘package’ using nanotechnology as a drug delivery platform.”
Nano and Pharma at Nanotech2006
Nanotech in Life Sciences & Medicine Special Symposia at Nanotech 2006 include:
- Cancer Diagnostics, Imaging & Treatment
- Drug Delivery & Therapeutics
- Biomarkers & Nanoparticles
- Cellular & Molecular Dynamics
- Nano Medicine
- Nanotech to Neurology