'Ultralong-acting' pill delivers malaria drug for 14 days

Lyndra is working on a drug-delivery technology that may control the spread of malaria.

An ingested capsule designed for “ultralong-acting” drugs was able to deliver a controlled release of a malaria drug to pigs for up to 14 days, MIT scientists found. The technology, developed at MIT and Lyndra, could improve patient adherence in various indications and slash health costs.

“People around the world depend on medications that require taking a pill every single day or even multiple times a day,” said Lyndra CEO Amy Schulman in a statement. “That approximately 50% of patients in the developed world do not take their medicines as prescribed, a statistic that is even more challenging in the developing world, has a demonstrable effect on healthcare outcomes and a cost estimates to the US healthcare system alone of over $100 billion annually.”

The pill is about the size of a vitamin, Schulman said. A patient swallows it and after 5 seconds in the stomach, the pill opens up into a star shape, she said. This geometry prevents the pill from being passed, allowing it to release a drug for days to weeks, the scientists said in the study, which was published in Science Translational Medicine. At a predetermined point in time, the pill then breaks down and safely passes through the gastrointestinal tract, thanks to the dissolution of pH- and time-dependent linkers.

While Watertown, MA-based Lyndra has eyes on a variety of disease indications for the technology, this first study focused on the delivery of ivermectin, a drug that kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes and is used to disrupt the vector transmission of the disease. Maintaining a sustained dose of ivermectin is crucial for tamping down malaria transmission. The scientists found that the pill delivered a consistent dose of ivermectin for up to 14 days without causing gastrointestinal obstruction or mucosal injury in swine models.

“Current extended and sustained release technologies achieve therapeutic serum levels for up to 12-24 hours,” said Robert Langer, a professor at MIT and Lyndra cofounder, in the statement.

Langer's involvement in med-tech startups has proven to be golden. In September, SQZ Biotech—which also came out of Langer's lab—raised $16 million in a Series B to develop cancer immunotherapies. A month before that, another Langer-founded company, PixarBio, raised $30 million in a reverse merger on Wall Street to develop a morphine alternative.

Lyndra's tech has implications beyond reducing infectious disease transmission. Lyndra is working on its own candidate to be tested in humans next year and is also teaming up with pharma partners on other indications. Schulman declined to disclose specific targets but pointed out pain, addiction and cardiovascular and metabolic conditions as potential areas of interest. For example, pain medications could be delivered at a more steady rate, which could prevent them from becoming habit-forming or addictive.

While there is a size limitation to the technology—the company wants to keep it the size of an average pill—Lyndra has worked with a number of active pharmaceutical ingredients and the size has yet to hamper its ability to address different disease states, Schulman said. There is also the potential to facilitate combination therapy: Two different medications that are better taken in tandem, or work synergistically, could be combined in one.