Hydrogels are cross linked networks of biocompatible polymers that can swell or shrink in a controlled and reversible manner that can be tuned to specific physiologic conditions. Wow! That was a mouthful. But if you re-read that sentence carefully you will find the description of an almost perfect delivery system (think UPS/Fedex) for intact proteins via the GI tract.
Since the development of recombinant human insulin in the 1970’s a new class of medications called protein therapeutics has changed the practice of medicine. Protein therapeutics are used to treat a broad array of illnesses including allergic conditions, rheumatologic disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, cancer, and endocrine disorders. But these medicines can only work if the intact protein enters the blood stream. Therefore, to date, the only delivery that works is to inject or infuse the protein. Unprotected, the protein medication if taken by mouth, would be broken down into inactive digested molecules by the intestinal tract.
Hydrogels are proving to be the perfect delivery system especially when engineered as nanogels. This technology has already been applied to the administration of clotting factor IX (whose absence causes hemophilia B). The potential exists for oral administration of a multitude of drugs such as; Humira, Rituxin, Xolair, Herceptin, Enbrel and many more. The benefits would include home administration, removing the pain of being poked and cost reduction.