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Jun 23, 2016
 |  BC Innovations  |  Tools & Techniques

Home is in the placenta

How tumor-targeting peptides could de-risk drug development in pregnancy

Many drug developers have avoided stepping into what they see as the high risk area of pregnancy-associated complications, leaving diseases such as preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction with little innovation and few treatment options. By taking advantage of biological similarities between solid tumors and the placenta, a group from the University of Manchester has developed a drug delivery technology that could shift the risk-reward balance and spur companies to reopen the book.

In a paper published in Science Advances last month, the group, headed by Lynda Harris, a lecturer in pharmaceutics at the university, reported that two peptides known to target solid tumors also home to the surface of the placenta. Drug-loaded liposomes decorated with either peptide accumulated in the outer layers of the placenta without crossing into fetal circulation or accumulating in maternal organs.

The authors wrote the technology can provide "a platform to develop the first generation of placenta-specific therapeutics," and the team has already begun collaborating with Stefan Hansson, a co-founder of A1M Pharma AB and professor and head of the Perinatal Laboratory at Lund University, to deliver recombinant A1M to the placenta. A1M Pharma has the recombinant A1M molecule in preclinical testing for late-onset preeclampsia and acute kidney injury.

"By homing a drug to the placenta, you can use a smaller dose and thereby avoid systemic effects to the mother and baby," said Hansson. "As far as I know, this is the only functional drug delivery that targets the placenta," he added.

In addition to the A1M program, at least two companies have therapeutics in clinical development for preeclampsia, and two others have preclinical candidates for the indication - but none of the clinical or preclinical candidates are targeted to act only in the placenta (see Table: Preeclampsia pipeline).

The landscape for fetal growth restriction is even barer. Several years ago, Ark Therapeutics Group plc was developing a therapeutic for fetal growth restriction, EG103, but the company, which changed its name in 2015 to Premier Veterinary Group plc, is now focusing exclusively on products for veterinary medicine.

Pregnancy complications...

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