‘Nanomedicine’: Potentially revolutionary class of drugs are made-in-Canada

It’s rare for researchers to discover a new class of drugs, but a University of Calgary microbiology professor recently did so — by accident – and now hopes to revolutionize autoimmune disease treatment. In 2004, Dr. Pere Santamaria and his research lab team at the Cumming School of Medicine conducted an experiment to image a mouse pancreas, using nanoparticles coated in pancreatic proteins. The work didn’t go as planned.

“Our experiment was a complete failure,” he recently told CTV Calgary. “We were actually quite depressed, frustrated about the outcome of that.”

But the team was surprised to discover the nanoparticles had a major effect on the mice: resetting their immune systems.

The team realized that, by using nanoparticles, they can deliver disease-specific proteins to white blood cells, which will then go on to reprogram the cells to actively suppress the disease.

What’s more, the nanoparticles stop the disease without compromising the immune system, as current treatments often do.

Santamaria’s team believes “nanomedicine” drugs can be modified to treat all kinds of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Convinced that nanomedicine has the potential to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry, Santamaria founded a company to explore the possibilities, called Parvus Therapeutics Inc.

This past spring, Novartis, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, entered into a license and collaboration agreement with Parvus to fund the process of developing nanomedicine.

Under the terms of the agreement, Parvus will receive research funding to support its clinical activities, while Novartis receives worldwide rights to use Parvus’ technology to develop and commercialize products for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

“It’s a good partnership,” Santamaria said in a University of Calgary announcement. “Bringing a drug to market requires science as well as money.”

Santamaria can’t say how long it might be before nanomedicine can be used to create human therapies, but he says everyone involved is working aggressively to make it happen.

With a report from CTV Calgary’s Kevin Fleming (video)
Photo: PrintScreen from the CTV website.

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