New polymer in oral med could increase absorption and drive down prices

University of Minnesota researchers created a new polymer structure that makes drugs more absorbable into the bloodstream.

Melissa Steinken

Researchers at the University of Minnesota created a new polymer that could increase the body’s absorption of drugs and drive down future pharmaceutical prices.

The polymer allows the body to easily dissolve medication and absorb chemicals into the bloodstream and could eventually make drugs less concentrated — in turn decreasing oral drug prices.

In partnership with the Dow Chemical Company, a University team of faculty and students from the Reineke Group, Bates Research Group, Lodge Group and Hillmyer Research Group used advanced equipment to construct the polymer, which binds the chemicals.

“By customizing these vehicles to help the delivery of the drug there is the potential to make the drug less expensive for patients,” said University of Minnesota chemistry professor Theresa Reineke.

Students involved in the project were able to make 60 unique polymers in about two weeks using Dow’s robotic synthesizers at its headquarters in Michigan, Reineke said, and added that making the number of polymers required for the research would have taken two to three years in a lab setting.

The team worked with an anti-seizure drug to test the new polymer structure. They found it could bind molecules of the drug and allow it to pass through the stomach and reach the intestine, where the drug would be able to dissolve and then be absorbed into the bloodstream.

The group also proved the polymer structure worked in other drugs like anti-prostate cancer and cholesterol drugs, said Jeff Ting, contributor to the study and post-doctoral researcher at University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering.

The team compared their polymer structure to Dow’s innovative technology that uses cellulose and found that Dow’s structure can increase a drug’s solubility by about three times. The University’s polymer increases water solubility by more than twenty times, he said.

Dow Chemical Company first reached out to the University five years ago and expressed the need for water soluble oral medications said Bob Schmitt, R&D Fellow at Dow Chemicals.

He said funding for the University researchers will be extended for another five years because they want to commercialize the polymer, while also offering future students the opportunity to work with this new science.

“I think it’s two very different paths we are going down,” Schmitt said.

The next steps in commercialization of the polymers could encounter problems, though, said Ronald Siegel, University pharmaceutics and biomedical engineering professor.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines for approving ingestible polymers due to toxicity and safety concerns, which could cause the new polymer to get bound up before hitting the consumer market, Siegl said.

Still, the polymer showed no toxic effect in animal livers during testing, Ting said.

The drug also showed high levels of concentration in the bloodstream, meaning the medication is more likely to reach the targeted area, Ting said.