In a white paper on drug delivery I contributed to writing a couple of years ago and in the accompanying report, we argued that one of the key economic drivers behind nanotechnology in drug delivery was unlocking the hidden value of many pharma companies’ already developed compounds.
“The acceptance of new drug formulations is expensive and slow, taking up to 15 years to obtain accreditation of new drug formulas with no guarantee of success. Compounds which are highly effective, such as Taxol for the treatment of cancer, are also toxic to healthy cells, and current delivery methods are unable to target just the diseased cells, leading to side effects.
As a result, drug formulation companies are looking to make use of these already in-use drugs and finding better ways of delivering them to their targets. At present, several hundred billion dollars worth of existing compounds, which cannot be delivered properly are sitting in IP vaults unused, and the industry is keen to unlock and exploit this valuable intellectual property.
New drug delivery compounds will also extend the product and patent lifecycles of drugs, allowing the creation of New Chemical Entities (NCE’s) via reformulation of existing and/or orphaned compounds, and subsequent creation of value for shareholders and consumers. Many drugs are poorly soluble, a major problem when the human body is 70% water. In general, poor water solubility correlates with slow dissolution rate, and decreasing the particle size increases the surface area, which leads to an increase in dissolution rate.”
In a recent article in PharmaTech.com an interview with several pharma experts indicates that one of the biggest impacts nanotechnology is having at least in health and medicine is the revitalization of “drying pharma pipelines”.
The disparate views in the piece hit on a number of areas that nanotechnology is impacting healthcare, such as analytical instrumentation or diagnostics. But one is struck by the example provided by Dr Gary Liversidge of Elan Drug Technologies launching five licensed products using the companies’ NanoCrystal technology with market sales of nearly $2 billion. “These and other nanotechnology-based products have moved the technology from the academic curiosity that it was in the 1980s to one that can potentially deliver real solutions for the many compounds that are poorly water-soluble,” says Liversidge in the interview.
This figure of $2 billion begs the question of whether I will have to resurrect my argument of “sine qua non” to explain to would-be economists that a few pennies of nanoparticles do create the value of a new drug formulation not just to market researchers but the companies producing them as well.
But before I completely jump on the nanoparticles for drug formulation bandwagon, I have to concede that this recent article in which George Whitesides offers another perspective has left me somewhat in doubt. Whitesides argues that the focus should be on using nanotechnology for imaging and diagnosing rather than treatment because even though cancer treatments may be targeting cancer cells “Cancer cells are abnormal cells, but they’re still us."
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.