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Researcher Studies, Commercializes Nanoscale Drug Delivery

Afsaneh Lavasanifar (University of Alberta)

Afsaneh Lavasanifar (University of Alberta)

A researcher at University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada developed a process of delivering drugs to targeted locations in the body with nanoscale polymer capsules, and has received a patent for that process. Afsaneh Lavasanifar, a professor in Alberta’s pharmacy school, also started a company in 2010 to take her process to market.

Lavasanifar devised the technology to improve the delivery of drugs over extended periods of time, as well as targeting the delivery of drugs to specific locations in the body to enhace their efficacy and reduce side effects. A leading use for this process is cancer drugs that can deliver tumor-killing agents directly to the affected site, with fewer of the adverse effects from current chemotherapies.

The process developed by Lavasanifar and colleagues forms capsules called micelles with polymer plastics safe to humans, such as polyethylene glycol and polycaprolactone that that can suspend in liquids. The capsules are extremely small, less than 100 nanometers (1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter), and have a double layer to protect the enclosed drug or biologic from dissolving too soon.

The process is designed to allow enhancements to meet specific medical needs. One enhancement uses a polymer, which once administered, reacts to body heat to convert from a liquid when taken to a gel in the body. This application of the technology appears promising for drugs that usually cannot be given in large doses — such as some antibiotics and antipsychotics, as well as those taken as eye-drops — which with this method can be released in smaller increments over longer periods of time.

Lavasanifar and colleagues published their findings in 2006, and with subsequent studies refined the techniques to a point in 2010 where she founded a company, Edmonton-based Meros Polymers, to commercialize the process. The company started with help from TEC Edmonton, a local business incubator, and received funding from Alberta Innovates and National Research Council of Canada. She serves as the company’s vice president and chief scientist. In November 2012, Lavasanifar received a U.S. patent for the process.

Meros Polymers and Lavasanifar are now working on another extension of the process, for delivery of small interfering RNA (siRNA), a form of genetic material with potential therapeutic benefits. RNA interferences are genomic sequences that can turn off specific genes, such as those feeding cancer cells. The encapsulating process could protect the genetic material for targeted delivery that would otherwise degrade and be eliminated from the body. “Our long-term plan,” says Lavasanifar, “is to see if we can get it into clinical trials and use it for siRNA delivery in humans.”

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