Nanomedicine: Big news on a microscopic scale

by Sruthi Valluri, DOTmed News | June 24, 2011
From the June 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

But in recent years, Grodzinski says, nanomedicine has been moving from laboratories to the marketplace. In his six years as program director, Grodzinski says he’s noticed a considerable change in the volume and focus of research.

“The field is more mature,” says Grodzinski. “More people are working on it, and there are more companies being spun off from universities to commercialize this technology. Translational efforts are starting to move forward.”

Nanomedicine’s debut and potential
One of the earliest success stories of nanomedicine has been Abraxane, a breast cancer drug that entered the market in March 2005. At the time of its introduction, nanomedicine was still a negligible segment of the pharmaceutical industry. At only $8.5 billion of the world’s market, nano-biotechnology was still a nascent field, characterized more by its idealism and media hype than its marketability.

Today, Abraxane, now a product of Celgene Corporation, has more than $400 million in annual sales. The product’s success has paralleled the growth of the industry as a whole. This year, nanobiotechnology is predicted to reach a global marketshare of $20.8 billion.

As the literature in nanotechnological research expands, so do the possibilities for drug makers. Other researchers and companies are seeking to mimic Abraxane’s success, perhaps even surpass it.

Dr. Larry Tamarken, president and CEO of CytImmune Sciences Inc., a Rockville, Md.-based nanomedicine company, sees cancer therapies as the next logical step for nanotechnological research. According to Tamarken, the reason for the industry’s focus on cancer therapies is two-fold: the growing medical need for more successful cancer treatment options, and the nature of nanoparticles themselves.

“On average, you have a one in 10 chance that any chemotherapy protocol will be successful,” says Tamarken. “The question we ask is, why can’t we do better?”

Tamarken says the more realistic goal,is not to cure cancer, but rather to treat it like a chronic disease, not unlike diabetes. CytImmune Sciences’ product, a drug called Aurimune, uses gold nanoparticles to deliver tumor necrosis factor (TNF) to cancer cells. It enters clinical trials this year.

Traditional treatment of solid tumors like breast cancer has been a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. Aurimune bypasses these methods entirely. Tumors need blood vessels to sustain their growth, but these blood vessels are poorly constructed and leaky, with holes ranging from 200 to 400 nanometers in diameter.

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