Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to develop innovation in healthcare. It involves using properties of a material at the nanoscale, which may differ in terms of physics, chemistry and biology from those of the same material on a larger scale. Despite many obstacles to be overcome, including the lack of hindsight on the toxicity of these technologies and an immature regulatory framework to assess them, the diagnostic and therapeutic potential of nanomedicine should result in an acceleration of its development in the following years. Alcimed goes back over the 4 main fields of application of nanotechnologies in healthcare.
The use of nanomedicine for prevention: improving existing vaccines or creating new ones
In 2016, Vaxinano developed the first vaccine against toxoplasmosis. Its concept was to encapsulate the contents of a conventional vaccine, i.e. the antigens of a killed virus, bacterium or parasite, in biocompatible nanoparticles. It had several advantages over the conventional vaccine, including nasal injection, which eliminated the side effects associated with needle injection, and the absence of adjuvant, eradicating the risk of reversion. Thus, the use of nanoparticles holds promise for improving existing vaccines and developing new vaccines for diseases for which they do not yet exist.
The use of nanomedicine for diagnosis: earlier detection of pathologies
Nanoparticles represent an alternative to contrast agents injected for imaging techniques that could improve image resolution, allowing earlier or more specific detection. For example, iron oxide nanoparticles are already being used to improve the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): by aggregating at tumor cells, they make them more easily detectable in the early stages of development.
Nanomedicine in drug delivery: improving efficacy and reducing toxicity
Most nanotechnologies in healthcare involve the use of nanovectors to convey and release an active ingredient in a very specific way into the target cells. This nanoparticle vectorization makes it possible to increase the efficacy and bioavailability of drugs while reducing dose and toxicity. These nano-drugs are now widely used in oncology, and notably give hope to treat cancers known as “hard to access”, such as pancreatic, ovarian and even brain cancer.
Nanoparticles are also used as a heat source to significantly improve the efficacy of cancer radiotherapy, thereby reducing the number of sessions or dosage. For example, Nanobiotix has developed a technology for aggregating hafnium oxide nanoparticles: injected before radiotherapy, these particles cling to tumor cells to amplify the ability of X-rays to specifically destroy them. The start-up obtained FDA’s “Fast Track” for the study of their product derived from this technology, NBTXR3, in cancers of the head and neck.
Nanomedicine and regenerative medicine: reconstructing damaged tissue
The promise of regenerative medicine is to be able to replace damaged tissue with healthy, functional tissue. Biocompatible materials can be structured to mimic physiological tissue. These nanobiomaterials can also be combined with stem cells: these materials act as scaffolds; by providing the right environment for cells to help them proliferate, differentiate and become functional. Currently at the experimental stage, the areas of application are very diverse, from bone reconstruction to wound healing.
Thus, nanomedicine is gradually carving out a place for itself by opening up new perspectives on key health issues: developing or improving preventive solutions, detecting pathologies earlier, optimizing the efficacy of existing therapies, accelerating research in regenerative medicine, etc. The next few years will be crucial to see whether nanomedicine delivers on the promises of innovations in healthcare it is predicting today. The associated market access strategies will then be key to help deploy them.
About the author
Héléna, Consultant in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in France
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