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Universal strategy to increase the uptake of drugs

22 October 2015


Scientists design more effective approach to deliver drugs targeting cancer cells and other diseases

Scientists have designed a novel method for improving the delivery of therapeutic molecules into diseased cells such as those found in cancer and tuberculosis.

Many drug treatments do not work in patients because of their poor ability to reach their intended targets that lie inside cells.  

To address this, researchers from the University’s Schools of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Biosciences, sought to improve the delivery of a relatively new class of drugs called biotherapeutics.

These drugs include antibodies, such as Herceptin, that target breast and stomach cancer cells. Cancer cells often contain a unique protein on their surface that acts as a barcode, uniquely identifying these cells as cancerous against their healthy counterparts.

Published in the Nature publication Molecular Therapy, the researchers describe experimenting with new ways of targeting breast cancer cells with Herceptin that interacts specifically with a barcode protein called ‘Her2’.

Scientists know this protein barcode to be a major driver of cancer cell growth and division.

In the paper, the researchers describe being able to manipulate how Herceptin interacts with Her2, which sits on the surface of some breast cancer cells.  By modifying how Herceptin interacts with Her2, they show that Herceptin and Her2 were rapidly engulfed by the cancer cells that then proceeded to destroy the protein barcode. 

Lead author Professor Arwyn T. Jones, from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, believes this new approach for drug delivery - called “receptor crosslinking” - could be used to target a wide range of diseases, from different types of cancers and inherited genetic diseases to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

“The striking thing is that we have tested our approach on both Her2, as well as other barcode proteins, and each one gave the same result,” said Professor Jones. “It looks like this could be a universal strategy to increase the uptake of drugs into different kinds of cells involved in many types of diseases.”

Professor David Needham, from the University of Southern Denmark, said: “I think the data is spectacular, and paves the way for nanoparticles to be taken in by cancer using one of many receptors.”

The research was funded by the EPSRC.