'Door-to-Door' Medicine Delivery

TAU researchers have found a way to deliver RNA-based drugs only to cancer cells, with no harm caused to healthy cells

07 July 2021
'Door-to-Door' Medicine Delivery

TAU breakthrough has potential to revolutionize the treatment of cancer, COVID-19 and a wide range of other diseases.


Leaving the Healthy Cells Alone

TAU researchers were able to create a new method of transporting RNA-based drugs only to disease-inflamed cells without causing damage to other cells.


The study was led by Prof. Dan Peer, who says “Our development changes the world of therapeutic antibodies,” in regard to the fast-growing class of treatment aimed at stimulating a patient's immune system to fight disease. “Today we flood the body with antibodies that also damage healthy cells. We have removed the uninfected cells from the equation, and, via a simple injection, succeeded in targeting only the cells that are inflamed at that given moment.”


“On every cell envelope in the body, that is, on the cell membrane, there are receptors that select which substances enter the cell,” explains Prof. Peer. “If we want to inject a drug, we have to adapt it to the specific receptors on the target cells, otherwise it will circulate in the bloodstream and do nothing. However, some of these receptors are dynamic - they change shape on the membrane according to external or internal signals. We are the first in the world to succeed in creating a drug delivery system that knows how to bind to receptors only in a certain situation, and to skip over the other identical cells. In other words, we deliver the drug exclusively to cells that are currently relevant to the disease.”


Prof. Dan Peer, a global pioneer in the development of RNA-based therapeutic delivery, is Tel Aviv University’s Vice President for Research and Development, head of the Center for Translational Medicine and a member of both the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology


WATCH: Prof. Dan Peer and his team in the lab, explaining how therapeutic RNAs are targeted only to disease-inflamed cells, no harm caused to healthy cells



May Improve Treatment of Covid-19

According to Prof. Peer this development has implications for many types of cancers, different inflammatory diseases, and viral diseases such as the coronavirus. “We now know how to wrap RNA in fat-based particles so that it binds to specific receptors on target cells,” he says. “But the target cells are constantly changing. They switch from ‘binding’ to ‘non-binding’ mode, depending on the circumstance. If we get a cut, for example, not all of our immune system cells go into a ‘binding’ state, because we do not need them all in order to treat a small incision. The protein we have developed knows how to bind only to the active state of the receptors of the immune system cells.”


Prof. Peer and his team were able to demonstrate this groundbreaking development in animal models of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and colitis, and improve all inflammatory symptoms, without performing any manipulation on about 85% of the immune system cells. Behind the innovative development stands a simple concept, targeting to a specific receptor conformation. Prof. Peer adds, “Through specific binding to the cell sub-population, while delivering the RNA payload we were able to improve all indices of inflammation, from the animal’s weight to pro-inflammatory cytokines. We compared our results with those of antibodies that are currently on the market for Crohn's and colitis patients, and found that our results were the same or better, without causing most of the side effects that accompany the introduction of antibodies into the entire cell population. In other words, we were able to deliver the drug ‘door-to-door,’ directly to the diseased cells.”


Previously, Prof. Peer and his team developed delivery systems based on fatty nanoparticles - the most advanced system of its kind; this system has already received clinical approval for the delivery of RNA-based drugs to cells. Now, they are trying to make the delivery system even more selective.


The study was led by Prof. Peer, together with Dr. Niels Dammes, a postdoctoral fellow from the Netherlands, with the collaboration of Dr. Srinivas Ramishetti, Dr. Meir Goldsmith and Dr. Nuphar Veiga, from Prof. Dan Peer’s lab. Professors Jason Darling and Alan Packard of Harvard University in the United States also participated. The study was funded by the European Union, in the framework of the European Research Council (ERC) and was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature


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