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Discovery & Development Drug Delivery, Technology and Equipment

Flipping the Tortoise

A pill-shaped device that can deliver monoclonal antibodies orally has been developed. Designed by collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Novo Nordisk, the blueberry-sized device can administer doses up to 4 mg upon delivery to the stomach.

Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at MIT, explained the unconventional inspiration that drove the project. “Our drug delivery system built on previous work that explored how the geometric self-righting capabilities of both leopard tortoises and weeble-wobbles – an unflippable egg-shaped toy dating back to the 1970s – could be applied to create new options for patients,” he says.

When swallowed, the device uses its unique shape and weight distribution to orient its injector towards the stomach tissue. Traverso says, “The device uses its weighted bottom and pointed top to autonomously rotate back to its preferred configuration, where its injection mechanism is flush against the tissue wall. This ensures that the drug enters into the tissue and isn’t degraded by enzymes present in the stomach.”

Relying on a humidity-sensing compressed spring, the device can inject a hollow needle into a thin layer of the stomach wall lining, through which a liquid drug can be administered. After administration, the capsule retracts the needle back into its shell for safe passage through the gastrointestinal tract.

The use of liquid formulations, Traverso explains, was a key component to the device’s patient-centric design. “The delivery of a liquid formulation enables drug uptake and effects within five minutes following capsule ingestion,” he says.

The work follows six years of collaboration between MIT and Novo Nordisk. Through the partnership, Traverso’s team has developed a suite of devices now able to support the delivery of biologics from the oral cavity to the stomach and intestine.

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About the Author
Angus Stewart

Associate Editor of The Medicine Maker

Between studying for my English undergrad and Publishing master's degrees I was out in Shanghai, teaching, learning, and getting extremely lost. Now I'm expanding my mind down a rather different rabbit hole: the pharmaceutical industry. Outside of this job I read mountains of fiction and philosophy, and I must say, it's very hard to tell who's sharper: the literati, or the medicine makers.

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