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A new way to deliver drugs more efficiently

Core-shell structures made of hydrogel could enable more efficient uptake in the body.

Many of the most promising new pharmaceuticals coming along in the drug development pathway are hydrophobic by nature — that is, they repel water, and are thus hard to dissolve in order to make them available to the body. But now, researchers at MIT have found a more efficient way of processing and delivering these drugs that could make them far more effective.

The new method, which involves initially processing the drugs in a liquid solution rather than in solid form, is reported in a paper in the Dec. 15 print issue of the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, written by MIT graduate student Lucas Attia, recent graduate Liang-Hsun Chen PhD ’22, and professor of chemical engineering Patrick Doyle.

Currently, much drug processing is done through a long series of sequential steps, Doyle explains. “We think we can streamline the process, but also get better products, by combining these steps and leveraging our understanding of soft matter and self-assembly processes,” he says.

Attia adds that “a lot of small-molecule active ingredients are hydrophobic, so they don’t like being in water and they have very poor dissolution in water, which leads to their poor bioavailability.” Giving such drugs orally, which patients prefer over injections, presents real challenges in getting the material into the patient’s bloodstream. Up to 90 percent of the candidate drug molecules being developed by pharmaceutical companies actually are hydrophobic, he says, “so this is relevant to a large class of potential drug molecules.”

Another advantage of the new process, he says, is that it should make it easier to combine multiple different drugs in a single pill. “For different types of diseases where you’re taking multiple drugs at the same time, this kind of product can be very important in improving patient compliance,” he adds — only having to take one pill instead of a handful makes it much more likely that patients will keep up with their medications. “That’s actually a big issue with these chronic illnesses where patients are on very challenging pill regimes, so combination products have been shown to help a lot.”

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