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New Drug-Delivery Capsule May Replace Injections

Given a choice, most patients would prefer to take a drug orally instead of getting an injection, according to a recent report in Science Daily.

Unfortunately, many drugs, especially those made from large proteins, cannot be given as a pill because they get broken down in the stomach before they can be absorbed. To help overcome that obstacle, researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have devised a novel drug capsule coated with tiny needles that can inject drugs directly into the lining of the stomach after the capsule is swallowed.

In animal studies, the team found that the capsule delivered insulin more efficiently than injection under the skin, and there were no harmful side effects as the capsule passed through the digestive system.”This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug,” said Giovanni Traverso, a research fellow at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Capsule with Insulin

Capsules with Insulin

Although the researchers tested their capsule with insulin, they anticipate that it would be most useful for delivering biopharmaceuticals such as antibodies, which are used to treat cancer and autoimmune disorders like arthritis and Crohn’s disease, reported Science Daily. This class of drugs, known as “biologics,” also includes vaccines, recombinant DNA, and RNA.

“The large size of these biologic drugs makes them nonabsorbable. And before they even would be absorbed, they’re degraded in your GI tract by acids and enzymes that just eat up the molecules and make them inactive,” said Carl Schoellhammer, a graduate student in chemical engineering and a lead author of the paper.

Schoellhammer, Traverso, and their colleagues set out to design a capsule that would serve as a platform for the delivery of a wide range of therapeutics, prevent degradation of the drugs, and inject the payload directly into the lining of the GI tract, reported Science Daily, noting their prototype acrylic capsule, 2 centimeters long and 1 centimeter in diameter, includes a reservoir for the drug and is coated with hollow, stainless steel needles about 5 millimeters long.

To test whether this type of capsule could allow safe and effective drug delivery, the researchers tested it in pigs, with insulin as the drug payload, and it took more than a week for the capsules to move through the entire digestive tract, and the researchers found no traces of tissue damage, supporting the potential safety of this novel approach.

According to Science Daily, they also found that the microneedles successfully injected insulin into the lining of the stomach, small intestine, and colon, causing the animals’ blood glucose levels to drop. This reduction in blood glucose was faster and larger than the drop seen when the same amount of insulin was given by subcutaneous injection.

“The kinetics are much better, and much faster-onset, than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration,” said Traverso. “For molecules that are particularly difficult to absorb, this would be a way of actually administering them at much higher efficiency.”

This approach could also be used to administer vaccines that normally have to be injected, according to the researchers.

For more information, visit www.sciencedaily.com.