July 1, 2013

Emerging Drug Delivery Technologies

Drug Delivery Technologies

These are exciting times in the drug delivery industry. A host of new delivery platforms is in development, some ofwhich have recently reached the market. The primary goal of these developments is to create systems that optimize a drug’s therapeutic value, but it’s also believed that finding better ways to get a drug into a patient’s system in a safer and more consistent way will lead to better compliance and outcome. Additionally, it’s estimated that up to 50 percent of new drugs can’t be taken orally, so the impetus to create innovative delivery platforms is strong and growing. Finally, an aging population, a growing demand for medications that can be self-administered at home, and the increased incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes are other important factors driving growth in drug delivery techniques.

It’s estimated by one study that the worldwide market for the 10 most popular drug delivery methods (including oral) will reach $81 billion in 2015. Another report puts the market significantly higher, at $142 billion in 2012. Whatever the market size, it’s clear that these new technologies have the potential to revolutionize patient care. Here’s a brief rundown of promising and novel drug delivery systems.


Nanotechnology, according to one definition, is the “engineering and manufacturing of materials at the atomic and molecular scale.” As defined by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, nanotechnology refers to structures measuring roughly 1-100 nanometers (nm) in at least one dimension, and are developed by top-down or bottom-up engineering of individual components. So-called “nanomedicine” is considered to be one of the most promising drug delivery platforms ever developed, and is being used to deliver both new compounds and previously approved drugs:

  • siRNA (small inhibitory RNA) is a bit of genetic material that interferes with gene expression. Researchers at several institutions have been loading siRNA into silicon nanoparticles to deliver it to an ovarian cancer gene. Results so far indicate it may reduce ovarian tumor size by up to 83 percent;
  • A lipid nanoparticle is being studied as a drug delivery system for orphan diseases, such as rare liver disease;
  • Magneto-electric nanoparticles are being developed as vehicles for delivering and releasing the anti-HIV drug AZTTP into the brain; and
  • Sugar-sensitive nanoparticles that release glucose may revolutionize diabetes treatment.

Transdermal Patches

Skin patches are another hot area in drug delivery development:

  • The FDA recently approved NuPathe’s patch for treating migraine headaches. Zecuity™, says the company, is a "single-use, battery-powered patch that delivers the most widely prescribed migraine medication through the skin";
  • The Nanopatch, a silicon patch that’s smaller than a fingernail, is made of thousands of microprojections coated with a vaccine. It’s held against the patient’s skin and the microprojections penetrate the outer layer of skin to deliver the vaccine; and
  • Purdue University researchers, (perhaps inspired by beer), have created a tiny fermentation-powered pump that requires no batteries and may be useful for powering transdermal drug patches to deliver drugs for treating cancer and autoimmune diseases that previously couldn’t be delivered with a patch due to the large molecule size of these medications.


Powder inhalation delivery has long been used for treating diseases such as asthma. A promising new application for this technology is in treating diabetes through inhaled insulin therapy. MannKind Corporation’s Phase 3 clinical trials are investigating the performance of its insulin delivery treatment. The product is a simple inhaler device combined with insulin inhalation powder pre-measured into single-use cartridges.

Needle-free Injectables

While this technology is not new, current research efforts are focusing on devices that are lighter and easier to use. Needle-free jet injection devices produce a high-velocity “drug jet” that enables today’s larger molecule, protein-based drugs to penetrate the skin. One such device, developed by MIT, is said to improve on older jet-injection platforms by delivering programmable and adjustable doses, making this delivery system more useful for treating sensitive populations, such as elderly or pediatric patients.


CeQur has received European approval for its PaQ insulin delivery technology. CeQur’s device attaches to a patient’s abdomen and insulin is delivered subcutaneously through a cannula from an onboard reservoir.


A novel gel material capable of releasing drugs in response to patient-applied pressure is getting close attention from researchers. This new gel releases a test drug in response to a stimulus that mimics finger pressure. Delivery platforms like this may help patients who need fast drug administration, such as asthma sufferers or those with acute cancer pain.

These new generation drug delivery technologies hold great promise to deliver better care to patients around the globe.

Tags: Product development Medical technology Drug delivery


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