DARPA Effort Targets Illness Faster, Safer and More Effectively

The Military Infectious Disease Research Program reports that more warfighters are hospitalized each year for infectious diseases than are wounded in combat.

DARPA is developing a rapid and adaptable platform to treat military-relevant disease may reduce this logistical burden and increase operational readiness. In Vivo Nanoplatforms for Therapeutics (IVN:Tx) seeks revolutionary treatment methods to get sick warfighters back on their feet, fast. A solicitation posted today calls for development of nanoplatforms that treat a variety of diseases. Such nanoparticle therapeutic platforms could be rapidly modified to treat a broad range of diseases, but more importantly will be based on safe and effective technologies.

While the medical community has been using small-molecule therapeutics to treat diseases for years, traditional drugs are often effective against only one disease, are associated with significant side effects and are very expensive to develop. “Doctors have been waiting for a flexible platform that could help them treat a variety of problematic diseases,” said Timothy Broderick, physician and DARPA program manager. “DARPA seeks to do just that by advancing revolutionary technologies such as nanoparticles coated with small interfering RNA (siRNA). RNA plays an active role in all biological processes, and by targeting RNA in specific cells we may be able to stop the processes that cause diseases of all types—from contagious, difficult-to-treat bacteria such as MRSA to traumatic brain injury.”

Related There was recently reported progress for safer and improved RNA interference.

New particles, developed by researchers at MIT, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Harvard Medical School, appear to overcome several challenges. Because the particles are made of DNA and RNA, they are biodegradable and pose no threat to the body. They can also be tagged with molecules of folate (vitamin B9) to target the abundance of folate receptors found on some tumors, including those associated with ovarian cancer — one of the deadliest, hardest-to-treat cancers.

Safety is a key factor to the many potential technical approaches for IVN:Tx. Nanoplatforms must be biocompatible, nontoxic and designed with eventual regulatory approval in mind. The IVN:Tx approach of treating illness inside specific cells may also minimize dosing required for clinical efficacy, limit side effects and adverse immune system response. Similar to today’s medicines, the therapeutic nanoparticles will move throughout the body in a natural, passive manner.

In Vivo Nanoplatforms (IVN)

Disease limits soldier readiness and creates healthcare costs and logistics burdens. Diagnosing and treating disease faster can help limit its impact. Current technologies and products for diagnosing disease are principally relegated to in vitro (in the lab) medical devices, which are often expensive, bulky and fragile.

DARPA’s In Vivo Nanoplatforms (IVN) program seeks to develop new classes of adaptable nanoparticles for persistent, distributed, unobtrusive physiologic and environmental sensing as well as the treatment of physiologic abnormalities, illness and infectious disease.

The IVN Diagnostics (IVN:Dx) program effort aims to develop a generalized in vivo platform that provides continuous physiological monitoring for the warfighter. Specifically, IVN:Dx will investigate technologies that may provide:

Implantable nanoplatforms using bio-compatible and nontoxic materials
In vivo sensing of small and large molecules of biological interest
Multiplexed detection of analytes at clinically relevant concentrations
External interrogation of the nanoplatform free from any implanted communications electronics
Complete system demonstration in a large animal

The IVN Therapeutics (IVN:Tx) program effort will seek unobtrusive nanoplatforms for rapidly treating disease in warfighters.

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