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Efficient and effective in-patient drug delivery technology is a challenge. Some diseases and conditions such as malaria and tuberculosis call for pills multiple times a day, which makes compliance tougher when relying on patients to take the medication on time the correct number of times. Other medications require a relatively massive amount of a drug over a period of time, doled out just a little at a time. Time-release capsules are one attempt to solve the problem but a big issue with that technology is the capsules move through the gastrointestinal system too quickly.

Researchers from MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have been working on the challenge of drug delivery technology that will stick around, literally, in the GI tract while the pharmaceutical payload is gradually released. The problem so far has been that the intestines are a rough ride. Particles of food and liquids bump into, stick to, and push and pull away pills designed to stick to the intestinal wall. A new technology developed by the Koch Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital called Janus looks like the answer.

Janus, the two-faced Roman god, was the god of transitions, of beginnings and endings, because he looked to the past and to the future. The new drug delivery technology is called Janus because it has coatings with different properties on opposite sides of a capsule used to hold pharmaceuticals. One side of the pill is coated with Carbopol, a commercially available adhesive polymer – that’s the sticky side that holds the pill in place. The other side is textured cellulose acetate that is fluorinated and lubricated so anything that pass by won’t stick to or pull at the pill.

The Janus pill has been tested so far in pig intestine to hold without being pulled away by food particles and liquid for up to 10 minutes. Ten minutes is a significant breakthrough compared to other designs that are usually swept away within seconds.

While this research is ongoing, the potential is that in the future we may only have to take pills one a day or even once a week or month, rather than multiple times a day. That’s not a hard concept to swallow.