Johns Hopkins Team Develops Novel Drug Delivery System

Johns Hopkins Team Develops Novel Drug Delivery System

kala-pharmaceuticalsDrugs that must pass through protective layers of mucus to deliver treatment to organs of the body are often not very effective, because the mucus—a sticky, meshlike material—prevents the drug from ever reaching its intended target.

But hope is on the horizon in the form of a novel drug delivery system developed over the past 15 years by a research team led by Justin Hanes, director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins.

Hanes’s system packages drugs into nanoparticles small enough to penetrate a mucus layer through tiny openings in the sticky mesh, and it gives those nanoparticles a minimally adhesive coating that enables them to slide through the mesh without getting stuck to it. Kala Pharmaceuticals, a startup co-founded by Hanes, is developing these coated nanoparticles.

To develop the nonadhesive coating for the nanoparticles, Hanes and his team studied mucus-penetrating viruses, such as the Norwalk and human papilloma viruses. By 2007, Hanes says, they had developed a coating that could make a nanoparticle pass through mucus “almost as if the mucus was water.”

A few years later, Hanes and his team joined Peter McDonnell, director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, and McDonnell’s team to apply the technology to developing drugs that treat conditions of the eye.

In clinical trials that took place this past winter, Kala Pharmaceuticals tested how well the system could deliver drugs prescribed to treat dry eye and post-cataract surgery pain. To reach their target, such drugs must penetrate the protective mucus layer that covers the eye. According to Hanes, the trials were a success.

The coated nanoparticles—called mucus-penetrating particles, or MPPs—have wide-ranging implications, with potential use for drug delivery to many different organs, since mucus is prevalent throughout the human body as a barrier to infection, Hanes says.

The coating helps ensure a drug’s effectiveness and reduce dosage levels. “Even with less drug and a less frequent application of the drug, you can still get just as good—or better—effects,” because the drug isn’t being caught in the mucus, Hanes says.

In developing the MPPs, Hanes and his co-workers went against prevailing theory that particles large enough to carry drugs would be caught in the mucus rather than pass through it.

Now, with several patents protecting its system, Kala Pharmaceuticals is set to dominate the field of mucus-penetrating drug delivery.
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