“A disruptive innovation for a novel non-invasive drug delivery”

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“A disruptive innovation for a novel non-invasive drug delivery”

The success of modern medicine results from a synergy between the development of drug delivery devices and the ever-growing drug industry. The Optogenerapy solution aims at disrupting the current drug delivery techniques proposing a cell-based implant able to produce a drug of interest directly inside the patient.


Project partner ETH-Zurich recently published a paper on this innovative solution. In this interview, Marc Folcher, senior scientist and lecturer at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in ETH-Zurich, Switzerland, explains to us what lays behind the idea of Optogenerapy and the impact the solution could have for the health sector.


 You are responsible to come up with the basis of the Optogenerapy solution combining different existent technologies in the fields of electronics, cell therapy and synthetic biology. What is behind the origin of the Optogenerapy solution?


 We were looking for an alternative solution for skin transdermal illumination in order to have robust control on implanted light-sensitive cell lines. We first designed a battery powered device but we came across a fascinating presentation from Japan about the wireless powering technology. We were fortunate enough to have a skilled electronic engineer in our team, Peter Buchmann, who modified an induction cooking plate to our first wireless powering plate prototype.


What Optogenerapy takes from each technique to conform the solution?


The Optogenerapy technology is capitalizing on mature technology, including optogenetic cell engineering, wireless powering and micro-moulding. The novelty comes from the synergy of the different techniques.


 Which developments in each field allow the Optogenerapy solution?


 The development of a near infrared light-controlled enzyme was a first step that enabled the design of a robust interface working between a machine and a biological tissue. The recent progress on cell-based implants enabled the development of subcutaneously-implanted neo-vascularized devices. Progress in advanced manufacturing offers new options to design and integrate optoelectronic in micro-moulded devices.


Why Optogenerapy proposes the usage of these techniques and what are the advantages of combining them?


 The advantage of combining these technologies is to offer a safe option to cell therapies. Using an implant confinement enables the implantation and the retrieval of the medical device. The patient is not in direct contact with the genetically modified cells. The optoelectronic offers the fine-tuning control over the therapeutic protein delivery.


Which are the most immediate applications of the technology to be used for the Optogenerapy implant?


 As Optogenetic technology is associated with genome modifications, it has a real difficulty to find its translation path to the clinics. Nowadays, most of the current optogenetic applications relate to mapping brain circuits.

In contrast, cell-based implants are now becoming a mature technology in phase 2 clinical trial for patients suffering from type-1 diabetes condition. The optoelectronic capitalizes on the advance of LED technology that supports the development of many medical devices but also many consumer products.


In your paper, you define Optogenerapy as a new drug delivery system or the modern syringe. Could you tell us more about it?


 The development of a standardised allogeneic cell line for a cell-based device would dramatically reduce the costs associated with cell-based therapies. The pharmaceutical industry drug pipeline is filled with biologics (protein-based therapeutics) and the Optogenerapy implant could be a disruptive innovation for biologic drug delivery practice. Even with the use of a standardised cell line, the therapy remains a personalised medicine. In this context, the caretaker can adjust the dose of the biological drug to deliver.


 In our opinion as an expert, do you believe implant devices can be an acceptable alternative to syringes as a system to deliver drugs in the future? 


 Yes, I believe the cell-based implant will be part of the tomorrow-therapeutic portfolio. The implant technology offers a disruptive innovation for non-invasive biologic drug delivery.



Marc Folcher is a senior scientist and lecturer in bioengineering in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) in Basel, Switzerland.  He graduated a DEUST from Paris Sud University with an specialization in antibiotics resistance in 1992. He joined the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in 1993 and worked on the microbiology of natural products and infections biology.  He later joined ETH, where he focuses on the development of bioelectronic cell-based implants from 2008.


More info:

 Optogenerapy: when bio-electronic implant enters the modern syringe era