Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Biotechnology new products’

Innovation in drug delivery presents opportunities for biotechnology companies, and is an area I expect we will see major leaps forward through nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the application of science and engineering to materials that are between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm) in size.  The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) defines nanotechnology as “the creation and use of structures, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small size.”

1nm is one-billionth of a meter.  To put this in context, 1nm is one seven-thousandth of the width of a red blood cell or one eighty-thousandth of the width of a human hair. These are unimaginably small materials that are engineered to operate at the molecular and atomic level.

What’s more, there are now more than 1000+ consumer products on the market that utilize nanotechnology from the titanium particles in sunscreens to the silver contained in advanced first aid strips/plasters.  Nanotechnology will impact more than $2.5 trillion of manufactured goods by 2015.

Lux Research predicts that by 2014, 16% of manufactured goods in healthcare and life sciences will include nanomaterials.

To date, the United States leads the way in the fast evolving field of nanotechnology.  Between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. Government invested $12.4 billion in nanoscale science, engineering and technology through the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

The National Cancer Institute’s “NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer” has an excellent website that outlines the potential impact of nanotechnology.

Some of the promising new cancer diagnostics and therapies based on nanotechnology include:

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging agents that can be used to assess the responsiveness of tumors to chemotherapy
  • Chemically engineered adenovirus nanoparticle that stimulates the immune system. This is in phase 1 trials for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
  • Cyclodextrin-based nanoparticle that encapsulates a small-interfering RNA (siRNA) agent that shuts down a key enzyme in cancer cells
  • CRLX101, a cyclodextrin-based polymer conjugated to camptothecin is in clinical trials with solid tumor patients
  • A nanoparticle based magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agent that binds to αvβ3-intregrin, a protein found on newly developed blood vessels associated with tumor development. This is in early clinical trials
  • Technology for the detection of cancer biomarkers such as prostate specific antigen (PSA)
  • Use of carbon nanotubes to improve colorectal cancer imaging.

Emerging companies such as Bind Biosciences are focusing on targeting cancer, inflammatory, cardiovascular diseases and infectious diseases with therapeutic nanoparticles.  Their lead product BIND-014 is currently in phase 1 development.

Innovations in nanotechnology will continue to present new product opportunities for biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical imaging and diagnostics companies, and should be on everyone’s radar.


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I have a long-standing interest in hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Many years ago while completing my Masters degree in human physiology, I undertook research at the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine at Farnborough on the effects of mild hypoxia on pilot performance.

So I was interested to read an article in the February 17, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on hypoxia and inflammation, and how this influences disease.  Inflammation is one of my blog themes for 2011, and in a previous post, I wrote about how its ubiquitous role has been characterized as one of the “Insights of the Decade”.

In the NEJM article on mechanisms of disease, the authors Holger Eltzschig and Peter Carmeliet discuss the cross-talk between hypoxia and inflammation, and how this is implicated in cancer, infections and inflammatory bowel disease.

A lack of oxygen (hypoxia) is something that humans are acutely aware of.  We are all familiar with the flight/fight response that is designed to increase oxygen delivery to the brain and muscles.  Hypoxia can also lead to an inflammatory response.  The flip side is also true, where there is inflammation there is often local tissue hypoxia. An example of this is in solid tumors where the level of oxygen is considerably lower than in normal tissue.

The link between hypoxia and inflammation is regulated by the hypoxia-inducible transcription factor (HIF) that is activated by hypoxia. HIF has two subunits HIF-α (consisting of HIF-1α and HIF-2α) and HIF-β. The article goes into detail (beyond the scope of this blog post) about the interaction between HIF and the nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-κB ) transcription factor that regulates inflammation.

Elevated levels of HIF-1α and HIF-2α correlate with cancer deaths.  HIF-1 overexpression is associated with tumor growth, vascularization and metastasis. This has led to HIF-1 being evaluated as a target for anti-cancer drugs.

EZN-2968, a novel HIF-1α antagonist is in phase I clinical trials.  It is a joint development of two biopharmaceutical companies, Enzon in New Jersey and Santaris pharma in Denmark.

It will be interesting to see whether targeting hypoxia dependent signaling pathways will enable a clinically significant reduction in the inflammatory response.

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