A nano superhighway for drug delivery

Once you reduce the size of materials to nearly atomic level, you give them increased volume and surface area, which allow them to be active in a new way – Dr. Irene Jaffe of SoluBest.One of the major problems in …

Once you reduce the size of materials to nearly atomic level, you give them increased volume and surface area, which allow them to be active in a new way – Dr. Irene Jaffe of SoluBest.One of the major problems in the drug industry is increasing the efficiency of the delivery method. So much of a drug’s effectiveness is lost due to inefficient absorption into the bloodstream or other obstacles along the way.

Increasing the effectiveness of drugs is the mission of SoluBest, an Israeli biopharmaceutical company. Essentially, the company’s patented platform technology – Solumer – creates transportation systems for drugs by wrapping any active molecules in a new ‘jacket’. And thanks to nanotechnology – the creation and use of the very smallest of particles – the company solves problems of delivery, and increases their solubility, absorption, permeation and general efficiency.

“We’re about improving drugs in a cost-effective, facile manner,” SoluBest Director of Corporate Strategy Dr.Irene Jaffe told ISRAEL21c. The Solumer process reduces materials to the nano-size level and maintains them in a stable form for more efficient delivery, whether it be oral, topical or intraveneous.

“Once you reduce the size of materials to nearly atomic level, you give them increased volume and surface area, which allow them to be active in a new way,” explains Jaffe.

Solumer can be applied to organic and inorganic materials, liquids or solids. Based on a new way of utilizing polymers to stabilize active molecules, it is useful not only in pharmaceuticals, but in areas like agriculture, electronics and textiles, where problems in delivering and stabilizing the actives prevent materials from reaching their full potential.

SoluBest is a founding member of Israel’s Nanofunctional Materials Consortium (NFM) – in which 13 companies and 12 academic groups seek ways to fabricate and use nano-particles in industrial processes and products.

In the pharmaceuticals arena, SoluBest is currently focusing on anti-infective drugs such as fungal and antibiotic medications, with future plans for anti-cancer, neurological drugs and small peptides. Of the anti-bacterial drugs, the company is concentrating on the macrolide family, particularly azithromycin. It is about to conduct initial clinical trials of SoluAzi, its new nano-version of Pfizer’s azithromycin antibiotic, Azenil.

Another area in which SoluBest is making inroads is in cancer treatment. In battling cancer, insolubility in water – shared by many anti-cancer drugs – presents a major problem, as 80% of the human body is comprised of H20. To meet this challenge as a proof of concept, SoluBest initially turned its attention to the chemotherapeutic agent Taxol – or Paclitaxel – commonly used to combat breast cancer.

While effective, this drug’s insolubility necessitates the addition of two additives, which enable solubility, but cause severe side effects. According to Jaffe, the application of Solumer eliminates the need for these materials. SoluBest is extrapolating this model to other anti-cancer drugs and has chosen future candidates.

SoluBest technology also has great potential for the lucrative field of dermatology, as evidenced by major agreement signed with DermWorx, the US based dermal company. Under the May, 2005 agreement, DermWorx committed itself to a multi- million dollar investment to establish a collaborative enterprise with SoluBest for developing topical medications.

SoluBest is in the middle of its $25 million in venture capital fund raising campaign. With this backing, says Jaffe, the company will continue according to its two-pronged plan of developing its own pipeline of products, based on existing drugs with expiring patents, and at the same time, the company will join forces with external partners to further develop their medicines. Solubest is planning to have its first product on the market within the next three years.

“Between 40 to 60% of drugs have solubility impediments that prevent them from reaching their potential in the body. We can improve these drugs and their delivery,” says Jaffe. “This is a big niche – in the US, large pharmaceutical companies are widely outsourcing this to companies such as SoluBest.”

Jaffe adds that new drug development is long-term, expensive and risky, though its payoff can be great. While new drugs cost close to $1 billion and demand 10 to 13 years to develop, reformulation of existing medicines takes between three to five years at a cost of $5 to $10 million.

“This represents a big difference in time and money,” says Jaffe. “Reformulated drugs can be on the market in several years, but their profits will be in a different league from those of new products.”

Having recently celebrated its fourth birthday, SoluBest was founded by international entrepreneur and chemical engineer Erwin Stern, who now serves as CEO and Chairman of the Board, Rina Goldshtein, Volodia Voronel and Alplex BV, a Dutch investment company. Hershman Investments LLC become the second outside investor a year ago, led by Dr. Ronnie Hershman, a prominent New York cardiologist.

Located in the Weizman Science Park that is home to many of Israel’s major biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms, SoluBest employs some 20 people in areas of R&D, engineering and analysis. The Executive VP, Gene Cooper and three members of the Board of Directors are US-based.

With its interdisciplinary, international staff, the company crosses both geographic and scientific borders. “SoluBest represents a cross-section of Israeli society,” says Jaffe, adding that the company employs many scientists who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, as well as Americans, Europeans and native Israelis – chemists, engineers, medical doctors, pharmaceutical and polymer experts, nearly all holding advanced and PhD degrees.

“With their vast collection of expertise, our employees exemplify the highly trained scientific labor force in Israel today,” says Jaffe. “Their pooled know-how promises to improve drug delivery and develop entirely new therapies in pharmacology and to serve an array of other fields.”