The gel, made up largely of water, contains cellulose polymers bound with barrel-shaped molecules known as cucurbiturils which can be loaded with protein or other therapeutics.
The cucurbiturils then act as “handcuffs” to protect and hold the proteins in place so that they can remain active for longer, and releases its payload in controlled, small doses through gaps in the gel.
If the project – conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, England – is successful it could drastically reduce the number of dosages needed for long-term chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer or HIV.
Speaking to in-PharmaTechnologist.com, lead researcher Oren Scherman said: “The new gel material is radically different from any other material available in that the containment provided by the gel is dynamic – gaps or pores in the gel are constantly opening and closing and this contributes to the extended slow release of the biotherapeutic.”
He added that the hydrogel’s ability to become fluid when delivered via injection, then become gel-like again once in the desired location is important for administering treatment to otherwise difficult locations.
“We see this as particularly relevant in placing biotherapeutics in otherwise difficult locations to treat, say brain cancer,” he said.
The uptick for industry
In the paper, titled ‘Sustained release of proteins from high water content supramolecular polymer hydrogels’, the team also say that as the product is 99.7 per cent water, the ease and cost effectiveness with which the hydrogel can be produced could be a boon for the biomedical industry.
“These hydrogels are easily processed and the simplicity of their preparation, their availability from inexpensive renewable resources, and the tunability of their mechanical properties are distinguishing for important biomedical applications,” they said.
Scherman added that for patients in remote locations – particularly for those in emerging markets – the tech could do very well.
“The material will be particularly important where the patients are remote from clinics but still need frequent injections,” he said. “This could equally apply to treating chronic diseases in the developing world or indeed military personnel in remote field locations.”
In a statement, fellow researcher Eric Appel added that for those too poor to have regular access to a doctor, such as the millions of HIV sufferers in Africa, long-term release would be useful.
“If patients only have to take one shot which will give them six months’ worth of medication, we’ll have a much greater chance of affecting an entire population and slowing or stopping the progression of a disease,” he said.
A spokesperson for Cambridge University told us this is an early stage technology – with specific therapeutics trials in vivo yet to take place – but that the team are “interested in talking with specialist drug delivery technology companies or pharma companies with specific drug delivery challenges.”