LONDON - PowderJect Pharmaceuticals plc has agreed on a technology collaboration with Bradford Particle Design (BPD) Ltd. to develop a needle-free injection system for peptide and protein drugs.

The collaboration brings together PowderJect's powder injection technique - whereby microscopic solid drug particles are accelerated to supersonic speed by a helium gas jet and propelled across the skin - and BPD's system for producing drug particles of a controlled size, density and crystallinity.

If successful, the collaboration could overcome several of the hurdles to affordable and easy-to-administer formulations of protein and peptide drugs.

These include numerous problems, such as they cannot be taken orally because they are broken down in the gut. And even if protected by polymer coatings, proteins and peptides are macromolecules, which cannot be absorbed readily through the wall of the intestines. They are unstable, which makes them difficult to transport and store, and when injected in liquid form they have a short plasma half-life, varying from as little as 15 minutes to one to two hours. They also are expensive to produce, meaning that low uptake delivery mechanisms are unlikely to be commercially viable.

PowderJect Pays $1.8M For Technology

Under terms of the agreement, BPD - a spin-out from the department of pharmacy at Bradford University - will grant PowderJect a worldwide license to its solution-enhanced dispersion by supercritical fluids (SEDS) technology. In exchange, BPD will receive up to £1.8 million over the next three years in an up-front payment, R&D costs and milestones.

The SEDS technology involves dissolving drug ingredients in supercritical carbon dioxide, the solvent properties of which are altered by subtle changes in temperature and pressure. This affects the rate of reaction and allows characteristics such as size and shape to be manipulated precisely when the drug particles are precipitated from the solvent mixture.

Carbon dioxide and other gases become supercritical - acquiring a mixture of liquid and gas properties - when they are simultaneously pressurized and heated. Although supercritical carbon dioxide is inert and nontoxic, it dissolves substances that normally only dissolve in toxic organic solvents. Its best known use is in food processing, where it is used to dissolve caffeine out from coffee beans.

The SEDS process is applicable to a wide range of pharmaceutical compounds, including small molecules, peptides and proteins. BPD already has signed licenses for the technology with five pharmaceutical companies, including London-based Glaxo Wellcome plc, with which it shares patents to the process.

PowderJect, of Oxford, U.K., is developing its needle-free injection system for delivery of DNA, conventional vaccines and protein drugs, including insulin and calcitonin. The agreement with BPD is the first to be signed under PowderJect's in-licensing strategy, through which it aims to develop smart-particle formulation technologies to enhance effectiveness of its powder-injection technique. *