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Revolutionising the way we take drugs

- Wits University

The Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) Research Unit is not just an institution of research.

It is a world where the drug delivery systems of tomorrow are imagined, formulated and tested.

Under the Directorship of Professor Viness Pillay, the WADDP Research Unit, which is situated in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, has one core focus in mind – the patient.

“It is no use undertaking the research if it does not result in a better life for the patient,” says Pillay, who is also the NRF-DST Research Chair for Pharmaceutical Biomaterials and Polymer-Engineered Drug Delivery Technologies.

Recently established as a Research Unit, the WADDP team has studied the limitations of current pharmaceutical drug products, and by rewriting the textbooks, they have come up with a whole new generation of Advanced Drug Delivery Systems (ADDS) that might well revolutionise the way medicine is administered.

In addition to having over 200 publications in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, the WADDP has filed over 40 PCT patents in jurisdictions such as South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, Japan, China and Africa over the past ten years.

The Unit also has the largest postgraduate and postdoctoral programme in the field of Pharmaceutics in South Africa.

The WADDP specialises in the research areas of neuro-therapeutics, tissue engineering, site-specific drug delivery systems for cancer therapy, the 3D printing of ADDS, stimuli-responsive and targeted drug delivery systems for infectious diseases and in silico modelling of ADDS.

“Before we set foot in the lab, we computationally model the system by using global databases and datasets through a set of algorithms that we have written ourselves,” explains Pillay.

This way, the team knows exactly how a drug molecule incorporated within an ADDS will react in the body before creating it in the lab.

Pillay says the need for ADDS, especially in cancer and in neurodegenerative diseases, which include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Motor Neuron Disease, is that the drug delivery approaches currently used are not sufficiently effective and result in numerous side-effects.

“You don’t want to flood the whole body with the drug. You only want to target the affected cells and areas,” he adds.

The team has developed a set of nano-robotic devices for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.  Based on pre-programmed polymers, the system actively hones in on the site of degeneration and delivers the drug only to the affected area.

For cancer treatment, the team has developed a nano-sized system that targets only the affected cancer cells via antibody-antigen targeting and prevents these cells from spreading. They have also developed smart nanoparticles for the treatment of brain tumours.

The team is also working on various other technologies, such as systems for the treatment of spinal cord injury, wound healing technologies, bio-similar fluids to treat diseases like arthritis and bone ‘glue’ to repair bone fractures where casts are not possible.