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DARPA looks to nanotechnology to target illnesses


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hopes to develop intracellular platforms to fight diseases in warfighters.

The research agency issued a solicitation on June 8 for help developing In Vivo Nanosensors for Therapeutics (IVN:Tx) that would fight diseases on a cellular level rather than relying on disease-specific medicines that require expensive and expansive storage and shipment. It said the new platform is needed because research like that done by the Military Infectious Disease Research Program has shown more warfighters are hospitalized each year for infectious diseases than are wounded in combat.

The negative effects of warfighter illness and downtime multiply when extended across the military, it said. Numerous medicines have to be transported to military treatment facilities around the world, soldiers must be trained to fill new roles, and in some cases operational plans must be modified or even postponed, it said.

The rapidly deployed and adaptable IVN:Tx platform to treat military-relevant disease may reduce logistical burdens and increase operational readiness , it said. The platform looks to revolutionary treatment methods to get sick warfighters back on their feet, fast. The agency’s solicitation calls for development of nanoplatforms that treat a variety of diseases, including nanoparticle therapeutic platforms that could be rapidly modified to treat a broad range of diseases, but based on safe and effective technologies.

The civilian medical community has been using small-molecule therapeutics to treat diseases for years,  it said, because traditional drugs are often effective against only one disease, can have significant side effects and are very expensive to develop. “Doctors have been waiting for a flexible platform that could help them treat a variety of problematic diseases,” said Timothy Broderick, physician and DARPA program manager. “DARPA seeks to do just that by advancing revolutionary technologies such as nanoparticles coated with small interfering RNA (siRNA). RNA plays an active role in all biological processes, and by targeting RNA in specific cells, we may be able to stop the processes that cause diseases of all types—from contagious, difficult-to-treat bacteria such as MRSA to traumatic brain injury.”

The agency said safety is a key factor to the many potential technical approaches for IVN:Tx. Nanoplatforms, it said, must be biocompatible, nontoxic and designed with eventual regulatory approval in mind.

The IVN:Tx approach of treating illness inside specific cells may also minimize dosing required for clinical efficacy, limit side effects and adverse immune system response, it said. Similar to today’s medicines, the therapeutic nanoparticles will move throughout the body in a natural, passive manner, it added.

The agency noted that IVN is a technology demonstration and human trials wouldn’t be funded. However, it encouraged proposers to submit plans for testing that would result in a clinical protocol prepared for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA will be engaged with the IVN:Tx team throughout the program lifecycle by reviewing proposals, participating in Proposers’ Day meetings and participating in government review boards, it said.


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