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Nanotechnology and the future of the pharmaceutical industry

Nanotechnology is small. So small, it defies the imagination's ability to grasp. By definition, working with nanotechnology involves operating on an infinitesimally small scale — less than 100 nanometers, to be precise. For scientists accustomed to working on the scale of millimeters — or even micrometers — the switch to nanoscale involves orders of magnitude of difference, as the manipulation of matter is carried out on the molecular or even atomic scale.

But nanotechnology looms large in the pharmaceutical landscape. That's because nanotechnology is viewed as a set of tools and technologies that will continue to facilitate the shift in focus away from the hunt for the next "blockbuster" drug … and toward the development of more effective, personalized medicine-based treatments. Most experts agree that the "blockbuster" drug model is on the way out.

The Dawn of Nanotechnology in Medicine

The writing has been on the wall for some time. In 2010, experts warned that the age of "me too" drug development was inevitably approaching the end of its lucrative run. While profits have remained extraordinarily high for some time, the development of drugs that are truly novel — and not simply patentable copies of other blockbuster drugs — is drawing to a close. At the same time, the age of nanotechnology in medicine is coming into its own.

The costs of research and development in pharmaceutical manufacturing continue to rise as drug prices continue to increase, while incremental improvements in drugs continue to diminish. At the same time, advances in a variety of disciplines — from genetics to molecular biology to nanotechnology itself — have identified new targets for disease intervention based on new understandings of molecular pathways, identification of new biomarkers, and individual differences in a given patient's genetics and the idiosyncrasies of his/her immune system.

Part of the problem with the traditional blockbuster approach to new drug development concerns these drugs' relative efficacy. The truth is that one-size-fits-all drugs simply don't work all that well for all patients. In fact, therapeutic response rates range from roughly 90 percent for certain analgesics to as little as 25 percent for various therapeutic classes of drugs. Oncology, in particular, suffers from this poor response rate, as only about one-quarter of all cancer patients who receive a particular chemotherapeutic drug can be expected to experience a meaningful response to the drug. Clearly, there is a glaring need for improvement.

That improvement is almost certainly to be realized through nanotechnology and personalized medicine approaches to drug development. "…There is going to be a paradigm shift in the pharmaceutical industry towards personalized medicine as a new standard of care, integrating therapeutics with diagnostics," Challa S.S.R. Kumar wrote in 2010.

The Challenges of Nanomanufacturing

As nanotechnology applications have grown in number and sophistication, even our language has had to adapt. Terms such as nanomedicine, nanomanufacturing, and nanomaterials are now commonly encountered in technical publications and mass media offerings alike. This rapid transformation reflects, in part, the exciting potential for nanotechnology to transform, if not disrupt, any number of industries. Some pundits have claimed that ultimately nanotech will be more transformative than the invention of penicillin — or the steam engine.

Hyperbole aside, among the most exciting possibilities is the potential for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drug-delivery technologies. By incorporating nanoscale drugs into liposomes, for example, drug makers are already witnessing remarkable improvements in efficacy.

Targeted Delivery for Better Bioavailability

Liposomes are essentially biological packages, wrapped in appropriate biological or synthetic materials, which can be delivered to an individual cell's doorstep. They operate much like packages delivered to a home's doorstep. Once delivered, they are efficiently transported inside and opened so the contents can go to work thwarting disease at the subcellular level.

Achieving the appropriate nanoparticles and encapsulating them in the appropriate "packaging" are areas where nanotechnology holds great promise. Significantly enhanced bioavailability, sustained/controlled release of the payload drug, improved drug stability and better targeting of affected areas for drug delivery are all advantages being realized using nanoencapsulation technology.

Fortunately, Microfluidizer® technology from best-in-class equipment manufacturer Microfluidics can help you achieve these vanishingly small particle sizes, while controlling particle size distributions, creating stable emulsions and minimizing raw material waste. From research and development of new therapies to full-scale production runs, Microfluidics machines are carefully engineered and manufactured to facilitate scale-up and achieve the nano-revolution in pharmacology. Call or contact us today to learn more about how Microfluidics can help

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Posted by Steve Mesite
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