Producing biopharmaceuticals with a drop of water

Posted Oct 2, 2016 by Tim Sandle
Scientists are researching the use of tiny freeze-dried pellets, containing the necessary molecules, to make life-saving medicines. Such pellets could be reconstituted with a drop of water.
A nurse shows vials of anti-dengue vaccine at Parang Elementary School in Marikina  west of Manila o...
A nurse shows vials of anti-dengue vaccine at Parang Elementary School in Marikina, west of Manila on April 4, 2016
Noel Celis, AFP
The idea of using pellets containing all of the molecular machinery required to turn DNA into proteins could represent a big breakthrough in medicine. Not only could medicines be quickly produced, they would be able to be stored for long periods, and could be tailored for individual patients. The production of medicines on a patient-by-patient basis fits in with the emerging field of personalized medicine (which has been covered by Digital Journal.)
Personalized medicine is about understating the patient and their condition and delivering the most appropriate treatment. In other words, medical decisions, practices and drug products are developed for the individual patient rather than as mass market goods and services.
The newly developed pellets have been formulated to contain dozens of enzymes together with other biologically important molecules. By freeze drying, through a specialist device called a lyophilizer, the drugs can be held for an extended period of time at room temperature.
When ready for use, the freeze dried substances can be reconstituted through the addition of water. Once activated, the pellets react and produce proteins. The pellets are sufficiently small so that a field medic could carry dozens into situations where there are no established medical facilities.
In a trial, the research group produced small proteins that could be used as a diphtheria vaccine. Furthermore, some antimicrobial peptides were also produced. As well as medicines, the pellets could also be used to create medical diagnostic reagents. A further potential application is with coatings for antimicrobial bandages.
Discussing this concept further, the lead researcher Dr. James Collins, from the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT's Department of Biological Engineering, said in a research briefing: “It's a modular system that can be programmed to make what you need, on the spot. You could have hundreds of different DNA pellets you can add in the field."
The research has been published in the journal Cell. The research paper is titled “Portable, On-Demand Biomolecular Manufacturing.”