Call for Superpills with Single-Dose Cures for Malaria, Other Diseases

One of the world’s preëminent biomedical researchers is calling for a concerted effort by scientists to develop pills that would stay in the stomach or gut for weeks or months once swallowed, delivering one or more drugs continuously or over set intervals.+

Such “super pills” would greatly simplify the treatment of diseases such as malaria. They could address a major concern in medicine, says MIT professor Robert Langer: the fact that many people don’t take all their drugs, especially when undergoing long-term treatment.

He and his colleague Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and researcher at MIT, note that failure to keep up with drug treatments leads to about $100 billion a year in avoidable hospitalizations. In poor countries, compliance with treatment can be even lower. “We have a lot of great medicines, but under 50 percent of folks actually take them,” Traverso says

Engineering a single pill to take the place of complex dosing regimens could be particularly important for malaria, which often requires multiple drugs over long periods. Failure to follow the right treatment can spread drug resistance, making the disease harder to eradicate. Traverso says the technology could also “revolutionize the standard of care” for psychiatric patients and those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, which make it difficult for patients to remember to take their medicine.+

Researchers have been developing extended-release medications for decades, and some, such as birth-control implants, are on the market now. But the existing extended-release medicines that can be taken orally—the easiest and most preferred way—deliver drugs over hours, not weeks or months.

The key will be developing materials that can withstand the harsh environment of the GI tract, whose function is to break things down and move them out rather than allow them to stay in place for months. Safety concerns are also paramount, since months’ worth of medication could be deadly if accidentally released all at once. There also need to be mechanisms for removing the pill or deactivating it if patients have adverse reactions

SOURCES- Technology Review