SiSaf: Delivering Drugs Accurately and Safely

SiSaf is a biotech company based in Northern Ireland and has just recently received an investment of $900,000 to enable the expansion of their R&D team and enable the scaling of their drug delivery technology. The funding was organized by the Irish Technology Leadership Group and implemented through the Irish Innovation Center which is based in San Jose, California and Innovation Ulster Limited.

Suzanne Saffie-Siebert is the CEO of SiSaf. She began her career in the pharmaceutical industry at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and then went on to take her PhD in the School of Pharmacy at the University of London in drug delivery systems.

She points out, “For people involved in drug delivery processes the problem is not the drug but the lack of ability for it go where it needs to be. Drugs are not smart.”

For example, a commonly used dosage level for a headache treatment tablet is 500mg but you only need 5mg of that for it to be effective. The reason that such a high dosage is taken is because the drug is distributed equally across all your body.

So, if you have headache all you may want is something for your head. However, the paracetamol drug compound doesn’t understand that. You take it orally, it goes to your stomach and from there it goes into your bloodstream which serves the whole of your body. Only part of it will reach where its intended target.

A drug delivery or carrier system attempts to get a given drug to its site for treatment by transporting the drug in a chemical container which prevents the compound reacting with its environment until it is in the right place.

Suzanne explains further, “The body has a lot of receptors attached to cells that identify and bind with different molecules that are passing by. If you put an anti-cancer drug into the carrier system and your carrier system which can be viewed, say, as a bag that contains the molecules of the drug in question.

“This bag is designed so that it has molecules on its surface that are able to identify specific receptors. This carrier takes the drug to the active receptors of an area such as the liver and releases the active compound.

“These carriers can be administered orally or by injection and but will not distribute their contents until they are in the appropriate area of the body.”

Conventional drug administration has two major problems:

  • Targeting: Drug compounds end up in places where they do no use and cause can harm.
  • Solubility: Many drug compounds are not completely soluble and thus are not absorbed in the human body and simply pass through.

Suzanne says, “The issue is not that we don’t have enough molecular compounds that are effective in cures and treatments — The issue is that they are not perfect and they don’t do their job anything like as well as they could.

“In my business, we say, ‘Let’s stop working on the discovery of molecules.’ Let’s use the molecules that we have that have demonstrable benefits and positive effects and improve their delivery by targeting, localizing and improving the solubility of the compound. Thereby reducing the dosage and associated toxicity and making the compound work better.”

SiSaf uses a semi-conductor material – silicon – the same material that is in your mobile and your computer chips. It is used in the formulation of their carrier system which in turn is delivered to the body through the skin, either for treating skin diseases or using the skin as a route for delivery.

Transdermal transmission can be done in the form of patches, by micro-needles or in the form of a topical suspension — a cream or lotion. In the topical suspension, the nano-particles that hold the compound are able to take it go into deeper layers of the skin.

Suzanne points out, “In the cosmetics area all those anti-wrinkle, anti-aging products only work on the surface and are not able to go in and work with the deeper cells. While you may get a temporary affect on the surface mostly through the effects of the moisturizing component very little real work is done.

“At a therapeutic level take acne. The major problem with acne is accessing the root of the hair follicle. If you are able to localize the antibiotic into that hair follicle you are able to overcome the problem of acne. From our point of view it is all about the issue of delivering the right molecule to the right place.”

SiSaf’s products differ from traditional treatments such as nicotine patches in that the use of the silicon nano-particles allows for greater stability in the delivery process. This is because the size of the nano-particles which vary in size from 20nm to 200nm are able to transit through deeper layers of the skin.

There is also another huge advantage in using silicon nano-particles and that is to answer the question of what happens to the particles themselves once they have done their job in delivering their payloads.

“The beauty of this carrier system is than once it has done its job and has degraded it become something beneficial for the skin,” says Suzanne, “Silicon nano-particles when dissolved in the body forms orthosilicic acid, something that is actually beneficial for the skin.”

This is a comfort for the users as they are able to overcome say, their acne, but not creating further issues of toxicity for themselves.

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