About Authors:
Aruna Rastogi
Roorkee College of Pharmacy and UTU
Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, Sr. Chemist

The method by which a drug is delivered can have a significant effect on its efficacy. Some drugs have an optimum concentration range within which maximum benefit is derived, and concentrations above or below this range can be toxic or produce no therapeutic benefit at all. On the other hand, the very slow progress in the efficacy of the treatment of severe diseases, has suggested a growing need for a multidisciplinary approach to the delivery of therapeutics to targets in tissues. From this, new ideas on controlling the pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, non-specific toxicity, immunogenicity, biorecognition, and efficacy of drugs were generated. These new strategies, often called drug delivery systems (DDS), are based on interdisciplinary approaches that combine polymer science, pharmaceutics, bioconjugate chemistry, and molecular biology.


To minimize drug degradation and loss, to prevent harmful side-effects and to increase drug bioavailability and the fraction of the drug accumulated in the required zone, various drug delivery and drug targeting systems are currently under development. Among drug carriers one can name soluble polymers, microparticles made of insoluble or biodegradable natural and synthetic polymers, microcapsules, cells, cell ghosts, lipoproteins, liposomes, and micelles. The carriers can be made slowly degradable, stimuli-reactive (e.g., pH- or temperature-sensitive), and even targeted (e.g., by conjugating them with specific antibodies against certain characteristic components of the area of interest). Targeting is the ability to direct the drug-loaded system to the site of interest. Two major mechanisms can be distinguished for addressing the desired sites for drug release: (i) passive and (ii) active targeting. An example of passive targeting is the preferential accumulation of chemotherapeutic agents in solid tumors as a result of the enhanced vascular permeability of tumor tissues compared with healthy tissue. A strategy that could allow active targeting involves the surface functionalization of drug carriers with ligands that are selectively recognized by receptors on the surface of the cells of interest. Since ligand–receptor interactions can be highly selective, this could allow a more precise targeting of the site of interest.

Controlled drug release and subsequent biodegradation are important for developing successful formulations. Potential release mechanisms involve: (i) desorption of surface-bound /adsorbed drugs; (ii) diffusion through the carrier matrix; (iii) diffusion (in the case of nanocapsules) through the carrier wall; (iv) carrier matrix erosion; and (v) a combined erosion /diffusion process. The mode of delivery can be the difference between a drug’s success and failure, as the choice of a drug is often influenced by the way the medicine is administered. Sustained (or continuous) release of a drug involves polymers that release the drug at a controlled rate due to diffusion out of the polymer or by degradation of the polymer over time. Pulsatile release is often the preferred method of drug delivery, as it closely mimics the way by which the body naturally produces hormones such as insulin. It is achieved by using drug-carrying polymers that respond to specific stimuli (e.g., exposure to light, changes in pH or temperature).

For over 20 years, researchers have appreciated the potential benefits of nanotechnology in providing vast improvements in drug delivery and drug targeting. Improving delivery techniques that minimize toxicity and improve efficacy offers great potential benefits to patients, and opens up new markets for pharmaceutical and drug delivery companies. Other approaches to drug delivery are focused on crossing particular physical barriers, such as the blood brain barrier, in order to better target the drug and improve its effectiveness; or on finding alternative and acceptable routes for the delivery of protein drugs other than via the gastro-intestinal tract, where degradation can occur.

1.1.1 Drug Delivery Carriers
Colloidal drug carrier systems such as micellar solutions, vesicle and liquid crystal dispersions, as well as nanoparticle dispersions consisting of small particles of 10–400 nm diameter show great promise as drug delivery systems. When developing these formulations, the goal is to obtain systems with optimized drug loading and release properties, long shelf-life and low toxicity. The incorporated drug participates in the microstructure of the system, and may even influence it due to molecular interactions, especially if the drug possesses amphiphilic and/or mesogenic properties.

Figure: 1 Pharmaceutical carriers

Micelles formed by self-assembly of amphiphilic block copolymers (5-50 nm) in aqueous solutions are of great interest for drug delivery applications. The drugs can be physically entrapped in the core of block copolymer micelles and transported at concentrations that can exceed their intrinsic water- solubility. Moreover, the hydrophilic blocks can form hydrogen bonds with the aqueous surroundings and form a tight shell around the micellar core. As a result, the contents of the hydrophobic core are effectively protected against hydrolysis and enzymatic degradation. In addition, the corona may prevent recognition by the reticuloendothelial system and therefore preliminary elimination of the micelles from the bloodstream. A final feature that makes amphiphilic block copolymers attractive for drug delivery applications is the fact that their chemical composition, total molecular weight and block length ratios can be easily changed, which allows control of the size and morphology of the micelles. Functionalization of block copolymers with crosslinkable groups can increase the stability of the corresponding micelles and improve their temporal control. Substitution of block copolymer micelles with specific ligands is a very promising strategy to a broader range of sites of activity with a much higher selectivity.

Figure: 2 Block copolymer micelles.

Liposomes are a form of vesicles that consist either of many, few or just one phospholipid bilayers. The polar character of the liposomal core enables polar drug molecules to be encapsulated. Amphiphilic and lipophilic molecules are solubilized within the phospholipid bilayer according to their affinity towards the phospholipids. Participation of nonionic surfactants instead of phospholipids in the bilayer formation results in niosomes. Channel proteins can be incorporated without loss of their activity within the hydrophobic domain of vesicle membranes, acting as a size-selective filter, only allowing passive diffusion of small solutes such as ions, nutrients and antibiotics. Thus, drugs that are encapsulated in a nanocage-functionalized with channel proteins are effectively protected from premature degradation by proteolytic enzymes. The drug molecule, however, is able to diffuse through the channel, driven by the concentration difference between the interior and the exterior of the nanocage.

Figure: 3 Drug encapsulation in liposomes

Dendrimers are nanometer-sized, highly branched and monodisperse macromolecules with symmetrical architecture. They consist of a central core, branching units and terminal functional groups. The core together with the internal units, determine the environment of the nanocavities and consequently their solubilizing properties, whereas the external groups the solubility and chemical behaviour of these polymers. Targeting effectiveness is affected by attaching targeting ligands at the external surface of dendrimers, while their stability and protection from the Mononuclear Phagocyte System (MPS) is being achieved by functionalization of the dendrimers with polyethylene glycol chains (PEG).

Liquid Crystals combine the properties of both liquid and solid states. They can be made to form different geometries, with alternative polar and non-polar layers (i.e., a lamellar phase) where aqueous drug solutions can be included.

Liquid Crystals combine the properties of both liquid and solid states. They can be made to form different geometries, with alternative polar and non-polar layers (i.e., a lamellar phase) where aqueous drug solutions can be included.

Nanoparticles (including nanospheres and nanocapsules of size 10-200 nm) are in the solid state and are either amorphous or crystalline. They are able to adsorb and/or encapsulate a drug, thus protecting it against chemical and enzymatic degradation. Nanocapsules are vesicular systems in which the drug is confined to a cavity surrounded by a unique polymer membrane, while nanospheres are matrix systems in which the drug is physically and uniformly dispersed. Nanoparticles as drug carriers can be formed from both biodegradable polymers and non-biodegradable polymers. In recent years, biodegradable polymeric nanoparticles have attracted considerable attention as potential drug delivery devices in view of their applications in the controlled release of drugs, in targeting particular organs / tissues, as carriers of DNA in gene therapy, and in their ability to deliver proteins, peptides and genes through the peroral route.



Subscribe to Pharmatutor Alerts by Email