Microbubbles could ‘revolutionise’ future of drug discovery

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A pioneering method of delivering lifesaving drugs using microbubbles is one step closer to being used in patients, thanks to the start of a new research project between Medicines Discovery Catapult and the University of Leeds at Medicines Discovery Catapult’s laboratories in Alderley Park.
Many life-saving and life-improving drugs can’t be used to treat patients due to their toxic side effects. Microbubble technology, in which tiny gas-filled bubbles are used to transport drugs to specific tissues, could effectively ‘rescue’ these drugs, overcoming the current issues associated with their toxicity, or stability. This technology has the potential to pave the way for patients to have access to new treatments, in much less time, and at a much lower cost.
Microbubble technology could also revolutionise the way that diseases like cancer are treated, by significantly reducing the amount of drugs that have to be given to patients. This decreases the side effects that normally come with, for example, chemotherapy drugs.

Doctors could potentially also use a wider range of treatments for diseases, or fight infections with microbubbles attached to antibiotics.

Thousands of the bubbles, which are one thousandth of a millimetre in size, can fit on a grain of sand. They are made, and then burst, by two machines developed by scientists at the University of Leeds. The first, called the Horizon platform, creates the microbubbles; once they are transported by the bloodstream to the right place in the body, the microbubbles are then burst with a second machine using ultrasound, which releases the drugs. The released drug can act at high concentrations on specific tissues without harming other areas of the body. 

The three-year research collaboration is the first project to be delivered from the Medicines Discovery Catapult’s new laboratories at Alderley Park, the flagship bio and life sciences campus in Cheshire. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is funding the University of Leeds research, with Medicines Discovery Catapult matching this by providing a range of expertise and resources in drug discovery and the laboratory facilities where the research takes place. 
Dr Peter Simpson, Chief Scientific Officer at Medicines Discovery Catapult, who is leading the research, said: “Many drugs fail to reach patients because they cannot be safely delivered to target tissues. This ground-breaking technology has the potential to drive drug discovery forward, by enabling the use of existing drugs that are currently unsuitable. The Medicines Discovery Catapult is here to help translate the best new technology and innovations – like microbubbles – into ground-breaking products.”
Professor Stephen Evans from the University of Leeds said: “The potential that microbubbles technology presents is huge. This collaboration will take existing research to the next stage and aims to validate the technology on a range of drug molecules, developing it to a stage suitable for future consideration in humans.”