Engineering advances in drug delivery systems are having a huge impact on our ability to effectively manage and treat medical conditions, with the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes.
The global pharmaceutical market, valued at $1.2 trillion in 2018, is expected to grow to $1.7 trillion by 2023. Fueling much of this growth are advances in drug delivery methods and devices.
Engineering developments in drug delivery often center around the best approach for productization, shelf life and application. New methods of delivery, as well as enhancements to the efficiency of the delivery method, have been developing in recent years for all market segments: Oral, nasal, rectal, injectable, IV, topical and implantable.
Oral relates to tablet, powder and liquid applications, which interact with the digestive track to provide access to the bloodstream. Design applications of compacted tablets, coatings, gel capsules for powders and liquids all deal with the ability to provide timed release of the drug for prolonged effect as well as the protection against the enzymes and acid in the digestive track. Many patients prefer this method and find it easy to comply. However, this method also may result in slow absorption, when food or other medications are in the same path. Because of this, patients may experience reduced benefits.
Inhalation can help medications be absorbed more quickly, because they interact with a relatively large area (the lungs). Unfortunately, drug options are very limited at this point because of restrictions from the inhalation technique to the particle size of the drug.
Rectal applications also provide faster absorption, through hemorrhoidal veins, but patients are reluctant to employ this method.
Subcutaneous or intramuscular injections, compared to the approaches listed above, are a faster method to get drug into the blood system. The formulation of the drugs can often provide long term duration of medicated action. However, the surrounding tissue and muscle may have some variability to the absorption process in different patients with the same method.
Some patients are averse to the use of needles, which is being addressed by the development of microneedle applications like 3M’s Hollow Microstructured Transdermal System (hMTS), which are more widely accepted by self-injection applications. Microneedle application platforms are often presented an array pattern that helps with the amount of drug that absorbs over time. In addition, solid microneedle applications provide an approach to provide sensing or measurement of blood over long periods of time without ongoing finger sticks.
Intravenous still provides the most instantaneous access to the blood stream and has the most dependable and reproductive effects on the patient through controlled application. This is the most expensive option and requires the most supervision
Topical methods, particularly transdermal systems that use developed medical grade adhesive technology or hydrogel adhesive technology to transmit the drug through skin contact and final absorption, are the subject of increasing interest and investment. The transdermal drug delivery market, valued at $32.5 billion in 2016, is estimated to reach $61.7 billion by 2023.
New technology is largely focused on the transdermal method because it is noninvasive and able to provide prolonged application on the same skin area. Because most drugs have a high molecular weight and are less effective for topical skin absorption, development underway to improve that application. For instance, iontophoresis is transdermal patch with an electrical circuit providing a low voltage path through the skin to promote deeper skin penetration of the drug molecules. Usage of flexible, stretchable electrical circuits plays a key role to this technology. Merging the microneedle approach with transdermal patches and flexible circuits can provide methods to provide closed loop monitoring of blood for applications in glucose monitoring as well as the application of drugs. Infusion sets commonly use dermal patches with sensor technology through microneedle technology to provide feedback to make ongoing changes to the drug delivery possible.
A lot of focus on closed loop technology to provide feedback for drug administration is being looked at where skin patches and microneedle technology is a partner. The term “smart device” relates to drug delivery applications where flexible circuits provide more areas for growth due to abilities in microelectronics, flexible/stretchable circuits and printable film, low cost applications:
Implantable methods began as devices like stents, which were coated with a drug. Now, implantable methods have evolved to where drug release as the main purpose. This has led to some of the most significant improvements in patient care, including contraceptives, hormonal therapy and treatments for eye disease, cancer, orthopedic uses and many others.
When you consider the impact these new developments in drug delivery methods and devices can have in managing and treating conditions, it’s clear that the potential for improving consumer health care is nearly unlimited.
Want to learn more about engineering drug delivery systems and medical devices? Contact EASi now.