Langer team offers up a hydrogel drug delivery vehicle at MIT

MIT's Robert Langer has been legendary over the years for working with promising postdocs on new technologies for therapeutics and drug delivery. Now he's the senior author of a paper from MIT postdoc Mark Tibbitt, who's created a hydrogel that's designed to be much better than current technologies in getting drugs into patients and straight to where they are targeted.

One of Langer's specialties is nanotechnology. Tibbitt turned to a type of nanotech constructed out of PEG-PLA copolymers, which Langer invented years ago. Tibbitt took those copolymers and mixed them with cellulose, a polymer, to make hydrogels that can carry one or two drugs at a time. And they are malleable, so they can be put into a syringe and injected straight into patients, bypassing the surgeries that have often been needed for earlier generations of delivery vehicles.

"We're working with really simple materials," Tibbitt says. "They don't require any advanced chemical functionalization."

The hydrogels can also be designed to vary dosing rates over time--depending on the drug being used--while also relying on a technique that leaves the gel and the payload where it's put, which can be a big advantage over more systemic delivery approaches.

The team has tested the concept in mice, getting confirmation that the technology could work in humans. Now they want to give it a try with an antiangiogenesis drug for macular degeneration. The same approach, they say, could also be used to deliver growth factors to repair damaged hearts. And the same gel could also apply to cancer, mopping up tumor cells that linger after surgery by drawing targeted cells to the gel and using a chemo payload to destroy them--potentially significantly reducing the risk that the cancer would make a comeback.

"Removing the tumor leaves behind a cavity that you could fill with our material, which would provide some therapeutic benefit over the long term in recruiting and killing those cells," co-lead author Eric Appel says. "We can tailor the materials to provide us with the drug-release profile that makes it the most effective at actually recruiting the cells."

Langer, who's won a string of prestigious science awards around the globe, has also set up a long lineup of biotechs over the years, often turning to VCs like Polaris and Flagship for seed cash. It wouldn't be surprising to see more come out of work like this.

Their paper was published in Nature Communications on Feb. 19.

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