Dr Mohammed Maniruzzaman: Lecturer in Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery at the University of Sussex

In this issue of BioScience Today, we speak to Dr Mohammed Maniruzzaman, Lecturer in Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery at the University of Sussex, about his work developing biopharmaceutical manufacturing systems.

Biopharmaceuticals now account for over 30% of drugs in the drug pipeline, with more than hundreds of approved products on the market and 7,000 products in development stage derived from biological sources, with year on year growth of around 15%.

Biologics, Dr Maniruzzaman believes, will provide advances in therapies to help meet more of our unmet healthcare challenges and ultimately provide solutions to treat complex medical problems which are otherwise currently impossible.

Indeed, they are already doing so, for just as we are preparing this issue, we hear that James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 2018 – which illustrates the potential of biologics i.e. proteins that function as a brake on the immune system.

“Their work is perhaps the best example of how antibodies have been harnessed to treat a disease, representing a major breakthrough in cancer treatment and leading to new drugs being made available,” explains Dr Maniruzzaman.

Hand in hand with the discovery and development of biopharmaceuticals, come advances in the manufacturing systems producing them, which make these treatments available, when and where people need them. It is this aspect of research which most interests Dr Maniruzzaman.

“I’ve always been interested in creating innovations which help human beings,” he explains. “I am motivated every day by filling the gap between what people need and what is available.”

It is a commitment which saw him travel from Bangladesh to the UK at just 17 to undertake his undergraduate degree at the University of Greenwich, before completing his PhD – becoming the youngest overseas student in the UK ever to obtain this accolade.

Since joining the University of Sussex, Dr Maniruzzaman’s research has focused on the manufacture of medicine and specifically on making that process more affordable.

Developing a continuous manufacturing platform for pharmaceuticals has been a key part of his work, with the hope of enabling drugs to be produced in a more seamless, cost-effective and timely manner.

Whilst another aspect of his research focuses on developing person specific biopharmaceutical manufacturing systems capable of providing treatments tailored to the needs of individual patients.

“Many medical solutions are based on the assumption that one size fits all,” explains Dr Maniruzzaman, “but in treating disease, a huge variation can be found from one patient to another, and in a single patient from one day to another. The needs of some patients, like those with diabetes, for example, can change on a daily basis.

“A person specific biopharmaceutical manufacturing system, however, has the potential to provide a solution that meets the changing needs of a patient, making the treatment delivered more effective and efficient.”

“When we started this work, there was a very limited provision for personalised medicine and what was available was prohibitively expensive, we hoped to provide a solution that would meet demand whilst proving more cost-effective and accessible, so we looked to 3D printing.”

Utilising 3D printing for biopharmaceutical manufacturing is something that’s been explored for some time, but what is innovative about Dr Maniruzzaman’s work is the small scale on which he and his team are developing this technology, as he explains:

“We are developing a small, handheld 3D printer, much like a smartphone, which has the ability to create medication of precisely the right dosage – meaning patients would benefit from tailor-made medication.”

3D printers have the potential to provide on-demand medications, with doctors using the cloud to prescribe medications and send them to a patient’s or pharmacy’s printer to be created.

The dose of medication could be modified as required, meaning patients would receive suitable medication when needed, whilst controls built into the system would prevent them being misused.

Individual manufacturing units would enable a dose to be created of exactly the right amount, even if it varied from the standard tablet, negating the need to cut a tablet in half for example and mitigating waste.

Each year, it has been estimated that around £300million is wasted on medication that is unused or partially used. Having the capacity to print and provide medicine of exactly the right quantity at the point of need, may help address this problem to some degree. Whilst the problem of pharmaceuticals degrading over time may also be mitigated, ensuring the medicine issued is working at its optimum capacity.

3D printing is also being harnessed for diagnostics, with a ‘lab in a pill’ helping to diagnose conditions such as bowel cancer, by detecting traces of blood in the body. Given the devices are swallowable, the whole procedure is more patient-friendly and speedier than other methods – precluding the need to collect stool samples, post them and wait for the lab results.

Whilst these smart oral systems, once swallowed, could collect information from within the body, then transmit their findings to an external receiver, so that the most appropriate treatment could be provided. Both of these applications of 3D printing have the capacity to transform the patient experience, being less invasive, more targeted and allowing for faster, more effective treatment.

Moving forward, 4D printing, where a medication is produced using 3D printing techniques but transforms/deforms inside the body in response to specific stimuli, like temperature or water, is also being explored.

As are smart intelligent systems that could be fitted inside the body sending information to an external receiver, potentially allowing a patient to be monitored remotely 24/7, preventing the need for a hospital stay.

These are just a few of the projects on which Dr Maniruzzaman and his team are working. “Whatever we do is highly transformative,” he explains. “We are interested in taking research from the lab to the bedside, finding the practical application of that research so that it will benefit patients.”