While monoclonal antibodies—or proteins made by cloning white blood cells to imitate the immune system’s defense—are actively used today to inhibit various sources of disease, they have to be injected into the body. Instead, a consumable capsule with the necessary drugs would allow patients to be more comfortable when accessing a treatment for their disease.
A team of engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Novo Nordisk, conducted research to create a capsule that would act in this way—delivering the drug and injecting it into the stomach of patients, rather than the patients injecting the drugs themselves. With the research, it was also discovered that the capsules were capable of transferring not only monoclonal antibodies, but larger protein drugs such as insulin in pigs as well. Due to its dome-like shape, it allows the capsule to remain upright and fit for the injection needle to be in line with the region that requires the injection. Although this version of the capsule was developed in 2019 and was designed to hold up to 300 micrograms of insulin, engineers strived to deliver larger quantities of up to 4 milligrams for the next iteration.
Rather than guiding the capsule down to other digestive systems, the new iteration of the device set the drugs to be released in the stomach, as stomach linings are thicker than others to avoid severe side effects. The structure contains fluid that is injected with a needle and a plunger to assist the needle in pushing the fluid out, all fixed in place by a solid sugar pellet. This way, the pellet would dissolve in the stomach and release the needle into the lining, and the plunger would push the liquid through the needle.
The tests for this new device showed that adalimumab (Humira), a monoclonal antibody, could successfully be injected into pigs with capsules as normal needle injections; this antibody is used for autoimmune disorders like inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. This test was repeated multiple times throughout several days to find that the drug was consistent with its results. There was no damage found in the stomach linings of all pigs subject for the test, as it only pierced about 4.5 millimeters of the tissue.