A new drug delivery technology spinout from Queen’s


“There is no point in designing the best drug in the world, if you have no way of delivering it to the right place,” said Professor Helen McCarthy from the School of Pharmacy, QUB. Together with David Tabaczynski (an entrepreneur from Boston) and QUBIS, Helen spun-out her drug delivery technology in May this year into Phion Therapeutics.

Through 11 years of research with protein fragments called peptides, Helen has demonstrated drug delivery capabilities of these peptides that could have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry.

What exactly is drug delivery?

Helen said, “Drug delivery is the next generation of drug formulation. Drug formulation is normally a major step in the drug development pathway where the optimal mixture of therapeutic drug and other chemicals are determined to help make the drug more stable either before or during administration. Drug delivery builds on this formulation by helping the drug circulate in the body or extending the half-life of the drug. Delivery systems are now being designed that condense the drug into nanoparticles that can be targeted to specific sites in the body. This is commonly referred to as nanomedicine."

Please explain what has Phion done.

Helen said, “There are two key advantages to Phion’s technology; it is easier to formulate the drugs and the drugs become more effective.”  

“Notably, Phion’s nanoparticle is based on peptides and that allows the formulation of different drugs to take place in days instead of months. As long as the drug is negatively charged it will self-assemble with the Phion peptide to form a nanoparticle. A simple analogy would be when a positively charged magnet attracts a negatively charged magnet. This ultimately saves drug developers time and money.”

“The second advantage is that the Phion’s nanoparticle can achieve full distribution of a drug cargo. Furthermore, with just a few adjustments, the nanoparticle can be targeted. For example, Phion has been able to concentrate various anionic drugs into tumours while preventing delivery to normal or healthy tissue and cells. This is potentially revolutionary for the treatment of cancers.”

What’s next for Phion?

Helen said, “Phion is in the early stages of commercialisation and interacting with many large pharmaceutical companies. We have expanded faster than expected but thankfully have the support of QUB as well as a key UK not-for-profit, Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult.”

She concluded, “The list of potential applications is almost limitless. As Phion engages with more pharmaceutical companies, we expect to discover even more drug classes that could be applied to our technology.”

Phion Therapeutics is now in the running for the Life & Health category of the upcoming Invent awards finals.


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