Issue Date: March 26, 2012
Just last month, MicroCHIPS announced the results of the first human trials of its wirelessly controlled drug delivery chips to deliver a drug that stimulates bone formation to osteoporosis patients (Sci. Transl. Med., DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.3003276). Robert S. Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 2012 Priestley Medalist, founded the company in 1999 with former graduate student John T. Santini Jr., fellow MIT professor Michael J. Cima, and venture capitalist Terry G. McGuire. None of them realized then what a long haul it would be.
“ ‘If we get this to work, it will be big,’ ” Santini remembers Langer’s saying back in 1993, when Langer’s group started the underlying research. “Neither of us knew if it would take three years or 10 years or 19 years, but Bob had the foresight to see it would be revolutionary.”
The device consists of a silicon chip with reservoirs containing individual doses of a drug. The reservoirs, which are capped with a thin membrane of platinum and titanium, release their contents in response to wireless electrical signals.
In the human trials, the device was implanted in patients’ subcutaneous space and programmed to deliver a daily dose of teriparatide, a fragment of human parathyroid hormone that stimulates bone formation. To ensure the long-term stability of the drug, the collaborators needed to hermetically seal each reservoir. They also needed to ensure that the drug could diffuse through the fibrous capsule that forms around any implanted device. In the trial, the blood levels of teriparatide released by the device were similar to those achieved with daily injections. The current iteration of the chip contains only 20 doses, but the next generation will contain 365 doses in a device the same size, says Robert Farra, president of MicroCHIPS.
Langer remains excited about the possibilities ahead. “Sometime in the future, we’ll be able to combine sensors and drug delivery functions in the same implantable chip,” he says. “The microchip device could be triggered to release a drug based on feedback from sensors in the body.” For example, he says, such sensors could detect the onset of a heart attack and administer an appropriate drug in response.
Patients still need to wait a few more years before such devices will be available. Farra expects to obtain regulatory approval within four years. When that happens, Langer’s research in that area will have completed its decades-long journey.
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