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UCSF collaborates with Zcube to develop new ways to deliver drugs

A pill filled with microscopic, drug-laden adhesive patches is at the center of an agreement between UCSF and Zcube srl, the research corporate venture arm of Italian pharmaceutical leader Zambon Co., SpA, to license UCSF-developed microtechnology and support early research into new ways to deliver oral medications directly to a targeted site in the body.

This is the first sponsored research agreement between Zcube and UCSF, but is expected to be one of several such agreements with the biomedical university.

Sponsored research agreements underscore UCSF's commitment to finding innovative ways to bridge the gap between basic research and real-world applications. They reflect continued efforts by the UCSF Office of Technology Management and Industry Contracts Division to help faculty research efforts bear fruit, while protecting the academic freedom and basic research for which UCSF is widely known.

The initial two-year agreement will support research in the UCSF Desai Laboratory into delivering drugs directly to the small intestine and colon. The exclusive, worldwide license agreement will offer milestone payments and royalties for a UCSF-patented microdevice developed by the Desai Laboratory to deliver medications for various diseases, including colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

"This partnership is unusual because it goes beyond licensing a technology, to fund early-stage innovation in drug delivery systems," said Tejal Desai, PhD, a professor of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. "That research is exactly what we need to do to see whether these systems will work."

The microdevice resembles a tiny, square Band-Aid with reservoirs in the middle for medication. Hundreds of these structures, each as wide as a human hair, would be packaged into a normal-sized pill, which would break down and release them into the intestine. The micropads would then stick onto the gastro-intestinal tract and deliver medications directly into the intestinal lining, then dissolve.

As a result, Desai said, the device has the potential of targeting the colon directly and increasing drug safety by reducing the amount of medication required in each dose. When properly targeted to other intestinal areas, the device also can significantly increase the amount of medication that reaches a patient's bloodstream.

Innovative technology that markedly improves both existing medication and new therapeutic agents is a key focus for Zcube, according to Zcube General Manager Lorenzo Pradella, PhD.

"The technology Zcube licensed from UCSF is a fantastic innovation for the oral delivery of single and multiple therapies into the gastro-intestinal tract, being extremely beneficial to many patients for different diseases," Pradella said. "It confirms Zcube's efforts to support emerging life science technologies that can improve health into the future."

Zcube was founded in 2003 to support emerging life science technology and research worldwide, Pradella said. Since 2007, Zcube has placed particular emphasis on drug delivery systems and medical devices in different therapeutic fields. Zcube has established collaborations to that end with universities in Europe, the United States and Israel, as well as with Mission Bay Capital and the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which is headquartered on the UCSF Mission Bay campus.


Contact: Kristen Bole
University of California - San Francisco

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