Nanotherapeutics: opportunities and challenges

This month’s Drug Discovery Today Editor’s Choice brings you unique perspectives on the potential of nanomedicines and the associated regulatory landscape, from researchers across the globe. We highlight four nanotechnology-related reviews from Drug Discovery Today and related publications that discuss the emerging concepts in the development of targeted therapeutic and imaging nanodevices, their path to clinical translation, and how they are being viewed from a regulatory environment.

In the first free download Yi Zhang, Yuhong Bai and Bing Yan describe the emerging therapeutic and imaging applications of functionalized carbon nanotubes (CNT). Single and multiwall CNTs have intrinsic spectroscopic properties, such as photoluminescence and near-infrared region absorption, that enable them to be tracked in vivo. In addition, drugs and imaging agents can be loaded inside and on the surface of the tubes. Strategies for taking advantage of their unique properties, making them more biocompatible, and tailoring them for cancer, CNS and other applications are discussed.

The second article by Ranjita Misra, Sabari Acharya, and Sanjeeb Sahoo provides an overview of nanotechnology platforms specifically focused on cancer therapy, imaging and diagnostics. Cancer has been the biggest focus for early applications of nanotechnology, and the review highlights approaches for active and passive targeting.

The third free download, published in Drug Discovery Today: Technologies, addresses the important regulatory aspects of nanotechnology-based therapeutic approaches, with respect to the assessment of the quality, safety and efficacy. Spiros Vamvakas, Jorge Martinalbo, Ruben Pita, Maria Isaac,  discuss the recent efforts made by the European Union (EU) to develop a common EU-wide regulatory framework, addressing the risk/reward scenarios. The authors discuss the classification of nanomedicines as medical products or medical devices, since they span the boundary between the two. The authors compare nanotechnologies with other advanced therapy medical products, such as gene and stem cell therapies, from the regulatory viewpoint. They stress the need to adapt a case-by-case basis evaluation of the benefits/risk scenarios and regulatory requirements. Such an approach has led to several successful nanotechnology-based products already approved with more in the pipeline.

I conclude with an article entitled ‘Dendrimer-based drug and imaging conjugates: design considerations for nanomedical applications’. My colleagues, Anupa Menjoge, Donald Tomalia and I discuss dendrimer-based nanotherapeutics. We outline different arenas in drug delivery that are being pursued with dendrimers, highlighting the specific physiochemical properties of dendrimers, and the nanodevice design criteria needed to produce improved efficacy. We conclude by addressing clinical translation, with a summary of various products in different stages of clinical trials, including one in Phase II trials.

These downloads provide exciting insights revealing the potential of nanomedicine. Combined with a rigorous quality control at every level, educating the society about the strong potential benefits of nanotechnology is key to overcoming the populist negative perceptions about nanotechnology.


Dr Rangaramanujam Kannan is a professor of ophthalmology in the center for Nanomedicine/Wilmer Eye Institute in Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, USA. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, he was a member of faculty in chemical engineering and materials science at Wayne State University. He holds a PhD from the California Institute of Technology. His research interests are in the area of nanomedicine, with a focus on targeted drug delivery using dendrimers. His translational research focuses on targeted therapy for neuroinflammation associated with cerebral palsy, retinal degeneration, autism and spinal cord injuries. He has initiated interdisciplinary translational research efforts in dendrimer-based drug delivery, involving chemists, engineers and clinicians. Dr. Kannan is an author of multiple patents and more than 60 peer-reviewed publications, and the chief technology officer of a tech start-up nanoScience Engineering Corporation. He is the winner of the National Science Foundation CAREER award and is an editorial board member of nanomedicine: nanotechnology, biology and medicine.

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