Technology that delivers proteins from a ‘biopump’ made out of a patient’s own tissue could soon replace daily injections for people suffering from chronic diseases.
Medgenics is developing the system to treat a range of illnesses, such as anaemia and hepatitis C. According to the group, its procedure has far fewer side effects than those associated with current protein delivery methods.
Dr Andrew Pearlman, chief executive, told The Engineer Online: ‘What we’re doing is following the model of nature by using a patient’s tissue to develop their own protein drug.
‘To do this, we use a special harvesting device that removes a layer of the patient’s skin. We then transform it into a biopump and implant it back into the patient to deliver proteins over a sustained period of time,’ he added.
The tissue used to develop the biopump is about half the size of a toothpick and can be frozen for future use. Pearlman said that a viral vector, which does not have any of its own genes, is used to transfer the genes of the protein needed by the patient. This is then exposed to the tissue in an external processing station that transforms the micro-organ into a biopump within 10 to 14 days.
‘We’re still learning how often the treatment needs to be replaced,’ he said. ‘We’ve had these biopumps going in patients for more than seven months on a single treatment. The trials showed no problems or side effects on the patients who usually have injections anywhere from three days to a week.’
The Virginia-based company currently has two products in development. The first, named Epodure, is being targeted at treating anaemia, while a further product, Infradure, produces interferon-alpha to treat hepatitis C.
So far, the company has demonstrated the proof of principle of its treatment procedure in a clinical trial using Epodure in anaemic patients, while clinical trials for Infradure are expected to follow in the next few months.
However, with the $50bn (£30bn) global protein therapy market expected to grow to around $87bn by 2010, Pearlman and his team are looking for ways to speed up the development process and increase the technology’s potential applications.
A recent $255,000 investment by its shareholders is anticipated to support the development of the biopump to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, obesity, diabetes and child growth deficiencies.
Pearlman and his team are also currently testing a prototype automatic processing system that allows the conversion of skin tissue be undertaken in sealed cassettes to improve the efficiency of the process and reduce the risk of contamination.