Monday, March 28, 2005

A Spoonful of Nano

"Never give us castor oil or gruel," was the ad for a nanny proposed by Jane and Michael Banks. And when Mary Poppins arrived, she brought with her the news that it is, indeed, a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

abraxaneWell, leaving aside leaps of logic regarding the aerodynamic properties of umbrellas, Poppins proved to be prescient. But it took a few technological revolutions never dreamed of in turn-of-the-20th-century London to finally dump the castor oil -- dreaded not only by generations of children but also by women undergoing breast cancer treatment today.

These days, it's a spoonful of Cremophor – a polyethoxylated castor oil – that makes the anti-cancer drug Taxol go down and ensure that it's absorbed by the body. But this kind of castor oil is not merely hard to swallow; it can be toxic, creating the need for more medication in another link in chain-reaction treatment that is decidedly old school.

So, flying in from above, nanotechnology recently arrived on the scene with a groundbreaking FDA approval of a drug that makes breast cancer treatment a comparative piece of cake.

That was the beginning of the "director's cut" for an article I wrote for The Scientist magazine in print and now online. (You'll need to subscribe to read it, and it's well worth it!)

It's about the FDA's approval of Abraxane, a nanotech-enabled drug marketed by American Pharmaceutical Partners.

It was just a blurb, so I had to leave some information on the cutting-room floor, including some interesting comments by the FDA investigators. I'll save them for another day. But I will give you my "alternate ending." Here it is, for NanoBot audiences only:

To Patrick Soon-Shiong, APP's executive chairman, the FDA approval marked the end of a difficult struggle against nano naysayers who doubted that a human protein could be scaled up into the nano realm.

Along the way, he approached five major pharmaceutical companies and was shown the door each time. Big Pharma just won't do nanotech, he said. They see it as too risky.

So, while scientific vindication may be sweet, there was a little something extra, too. Just after Abraxane's FDA approval, American Pharmaceutical Partner's stock soared by 50 percent. Now that, some would say, is what nanotech is really all about these days.

And, as Ms. Poppins might say, that's more than tuppence.

NanoBot Backgrounder
Living on nano time
The FDA's need for speed
Nanoparticles clobber cancer with sneak attack

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