According to the European Science Foundation (ESF), Europe is leading a revolution in pharmaceuticals. This was one of the major conclusions of a two-year study by the ESF entitled “Scientific Forward Look on Nanomedicine,” presented in Brussels Dec.15th.
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology to apply devices with unprecedented capability to probe and manipulate biological systems on a molecular level. According to ESP, the miniscule size of nanomedical tools has several advantages, including: the ability to densely pack a multitude of objects with different functions into a small space.
Moreover, nano-scale objects have unique physical properties. According to Professor Ruth Duncan of the University of Cardiff, who chaired the ESF report, one area that nanomedicine is offering tangible results in is in the development of new drugs. One of the first nanomedicines to reach the market was a suspension of the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin in liposomes. Packing doxorubicin in liposomes reportedly extends its lifetime in the body, lowering its cost and toxicity while increasing its effectiveness.
Professor Alberto Gabizon, of Shaare Zedek Medical Centre and Hebrew University, said that several other types of nanoparticles are in development or have recently been approved for use in drug delivery. These include spheres made of the blood protein albumin and polymers like polyethylene glycol. Gabizon added that he was confident that “formulations based on polymer conjugates and on liposome as carriers of drugs are going to multiply in the coming years;” and he reportedly called the new formulations coming into use first-generation nanoparticles.
Gabizon also said major advances have been made in a second generation, in which the nanoparticles are linked to antibodies or small proteins that specifically target them to diseased tissues. These second-generation nanoparticles should become available over the next five to ten years.
Third generation nanoparticles are said to be under development, and these combine multiple components such as specialized nanomaterials, imaging agents, antibodies and systems for controlled unloading of particle contents.