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Nanobiotechnology February 2021 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Ivona Bradley

Nanotechnology and Vaccine Delivery

Why is this topic significant?

Two nanomedicine-based vaccines are helping to reinforce the health-care industry's fight against the covid-19 pandemic.

Description

The covid-19 pandemic continues to cause dramatic shifts throughout the health-care industry. Global efforts are under way to tackle the pandemic. Such efforts include fast-tracking approval of vaccines and implementing vaccine programs. The December 2020/January 2021 Viewpoints reports that many coronavirus-vaccine candidates are in development or in clinical trials, and at the time of this writing, a handful of candidates have already received approval. The Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society keeps a list of approved vaccines and vaccines in clinical trials, which it updates periodically. Recently, Nature Nanotechnology reported on the two vaccines—Comirnaty (formerly BNT162b2) developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and mRNA-1273 developed by Moderna and the US National Institutes of Health—that contain lipid nanoparticles and the role that nanomedicine plays in the fight against covid-19. The vaccines, which already have approval in a number of countries, contain messenger RNA (mRNA) that instructs the human body to make the coronavirus spike protein, for which the immune system can make antibodies to target future infections. RNA is an unstable molecule that is prone to degradation in the body and causes immune responses when medics inject it into patients. Although mRNA therapeutics are safer than whole-virus vaccines or DNA therapeutics, one difficulty with mRNA therapeutics is the method scientists use to deliver the mRNA to the cell; mRNA therapeutics need to enter the correct cells and at the correct dosage. The lipid-nanoparticle platforms that deliver the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect the mRNA from degradation and enable the safe delivery of genetic variants of the viral spike protein to the host cells.

Implications and Disruptions

Any therapeutic biological will be subject to degradation if the delivery method is injection; effective delivery systems are therefore essential if this class of therapeutics is to achieve wide use. Nanomedicine is not a new field, but toxicity to the body is one of the reasons why many nanomedicine technologies have not reached patients. Many R&D initiatives in nanomedicine do not pass the initial stage of development because the technologies harm the body. Nevertheless, extensive research exists in the use of lipid nanoparticles as drug-delivery carriers, and a number of such carriers, including Ambisome (lipid-nanoparticles carriers for amphotericin B), are already commercially available. The research and commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled vaccines, which the covid-19 pandemic has accelerated in the last 12 months, are critical signposts worth monitoring for assessing progress toward the routine use of nanomedicine in pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals development.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Nanomedicine, biotechnology, health care, vaccine development, biopharmaceuticals

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

The Big Picture: Advanced Drug Delivery

Why is this topic significant?

The development of advanced drug-delivery systems is a major driver in technical innovation and business opportunity and is of strategic importance to pharmaceutical companies.

Description

The advantage of advanced drug-delivery systems is that they can improve the biodistribution of a therapeutic and its pharmacokinetics. Advanced drug-delivery systems are high-value components in a pharmaceutical product and, rather than being an afterthought to enable delivery of a drug, are increasingly early-stage and integral parts of the drug-development program. Among advanced drug-delivery systems, nanoparticles that contain therapeutics are systems that pharmaceutical companies may choose to enhance or enable delivery of difficult-to-deliver drugs and more complex treatment regimens. Studies that evaluate the parameters that control interactions between a drug and a delivery system exist and can help developers pick effective combinations more efficiently. For drugs coming off patent, alternative drug-delivery systems offer manufacturers a means to extend the product life cycle of a tested therapeutic by combining the drug with an innovative drug-delivery system as part of a biomedical device or therapeutic. Developing advanced drug-delivery applications is demanding in time and resources, and the regulatory process for products that enter the body is a significant hurdle for developers. However, successful products that serve a large patient population could be significant revenue earners for their developers.

Market Opportunities

Treating medical conditions that affect an aging population provides significant incentive to improve drug delivery across the economically developed world, where the aging population is steadily increasing. Not surprisingly, old people generally require more biomedical devices and replacement structures than do younger people. Manufacturers can ensure better delivery of drugs to target sites by incorporating the drugs into the surface of implants. Targeted delivery avoids exposing the whole body to a therapeutic, reducing undesirable side effects, and can facilitate effective treatment with higher localized doses of the active agent.

In the medium term, new technologies such as stem-cell and gene-editing technologies may radically alter the use of medications. For example, if gene editing cures (or prevents) a condition, any medication the patient may have been using and the medication's delivery system will no longer be necessary. However, to change a gene in all the somatic cells of the target tissue, a vector will carry a gene; the vector may be a variant of a known drug-delivery system or it may be a novel technology. Therefore, gene editing will likely present new opportunities for nanotechnologies in gene-delivery systems.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Life sciences, biotechnology, health care, diagnostics, medical materials, implantable drug-delivery systems, gene therapy, vaccine development

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: