If being able to remember the ‘unusual’ names of medicines is an indicator of their impact on society, then drugs like penicillin, insulin, ether, aspirin and morphine achieve top marks.
But these medicines are mature and relatively old in drug-years. So what about the next generation and where are the innovations likely to come from?
According to professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, the next decade will see biologically derived therapies – or ‘biologics’ – dominate the treatment landscape.
In 2013, eight of the top ten selling drugs worldwide were biologics products manufactured in a living system such as a microorganism, plant or animal cell.
Most biologics – including the top sellers, Humira, Enbrel and Remicade – are very large, complex molecules produced using recombinant DNA technology.
Most of our prescription medicines are administered orally or by injection. As a patient, the general preference is to receive medicine orally in pill or ‘syrup’ format. Indeed a phobia or fear of needles is common and with billions of injections given each year that’s a lot of nervous patients.
Injections pose other challenges too for patients and medical professionals. There is always a risk of infection caused by piercing the skin, especially from contaminated needles, and medical professionals need to be wary of ‘stick’ injuries.
But sometimes injections are unavoidable. Drugs made from large proteins can be broken down in the stomach before they can take effect. But what if there was a way to use the powerful acids in our stomachs to deliver an injection in the form of a pill – from the inside?
It seems implausible, but that’s what researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital have managed to do.
A schematic drawing of a microneedle pill with hollow needles. When the pill reaches the desired location in the digestive tract, the pH-sensitive coating surrounding the capsule dissolves, allowing the drug to be released through the microneedles. Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT, based on images by Carol Schoellhammer and Giovanni Traverso
If you’ve ever had a tropical aquarium there’s a good chance you’ll have owned and been delighted by the vibrant colours of a darting Zebrafish.
What you may not know is that the Zebrafish has become a firm favourite of the research community. One reason for this is that Zebrafish embryos are completely transparent making them ideally suited for studying developmental processes as they occur.
As a general introduction to why Zebrafish are so attractive to the science community, take a look at this YouTube video produced by University College London (UCL).