What Is Nanomedicine?
Posted by Lawrence HermanComment

Lawrence HermanThis article was originally posted on on May 7, 2013.

The ability to encapsulate potent drugs in tiny particles measuring billionths of a meter in diameter is opening up new options for super-accurate drug delivery, increasing precision hits at the site of disease with fewer side effects. And this technology appears to hold such promise that a biotech company—Bind Therapeutics—just struck three deals that together are worth nearly $1 billion—if their experiments are successful.

This highlights a new interest in using such tiny carriers to deliver drug payloads to specific locations in the body, most notably against cancers. Another ongoing application is the prophylaxis against and treatment of overwhelming sepsis with truly incredible results in mice.

Nanoparticles made of polymers, gold and even grapheme—a newly discovered form of carbon—are now in various stages of development. In cancer alone, 117 drugs are being assessed using nanoparticle formulations, though most have yet to be tried on humans.

Biotech companies are increasingly focused on better drug targeting to increase efficacy and lessen the collateral damage caused by the indiscriminate and systemic treatment of disease, a particular problem in cancer, where toxic compounds are needed to kill tumors and cause significant collateral damage.

The work on drug-carrying nanoparticles parallels advances in using so-called “armed antibodies” to deliver drugs directly to cancer cells. Roche won U.S. approval in February for Kadcyla, its first such antibody-drug conjugate, which treats one type of breast cancer with fewer side effects.

Curiously, this is not new technology. The world’s first nanomedicine was actually approved back in 1995 when U.S. regulators gave a green light to Doxil for treating Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer often associated with AIDS. Doxil, a hollow fatty ball known as a liposome with a cancer-killing drug inside it, was a breakthrough at the time. Yet virtually no other nanomedicines followed, until recently.

Newer scientific advances have changed the game, however. Bind’s nanoparticles, for example, are programmed to reach the right spot using targeting molecules that recognize specific proteins linked to disease on the surface of cells. They also have a stealth covering that shields them from the immune system, in order to minimize adverse reactions. All the novel carriers will have to be studied closely for potential toxicity. However, experience with liposomes is good and versions of gold nanoparticles have also been used safely for many years to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Further out, there are potential uses in vaccines for a plethora of diseases and cancers, as well as treatments for food allergies.

Lawrence Herman, PA-C, MPA, DFAAPA, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury, N.Y., and AAPA President-elect.

See also: Google Glass Will Revolutionize Medicine

This article was originally posted on on May 7, 2013.

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