‘Holy grail’ of treatments patented

University of Otago School of Biomedical Sciences researcher Prof John Reynolds and his team have...
University of Otago School of Biomedical Sciences researcher Prof John Reynolds and his team have received a United States patent for their medical invention which can deliver drugs to specific parts of the brain. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
An Otago medical invention capable of treating epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and brain cancer has been granted a United States patent, meaning it could be publicly available within the next decade.

University of Otago School of Biomedical Sciences researcher and lead investigator Prof John Reynolds said it could treat patients by injecting them with medication which sits dormant in their bloodstream until specialised sound and light waves were used to release it into specific areas of the brain.

Prof Reynolds has already proved it can be used to stop seizure activity in people with epilepsy, and he is now developing the system to make it safe and ready for human trials in the next two years.

He believed it was "the holy grail" of targeted drug delivery and said it was the "pinnacle" of his work.

"It’s so complex. It’s taken so many years and we’ve had so many people involved, a combination of many different departments and many different investigators."

Otago scientists worked with Dunedin company Kamahi and Callaghan Innovation in Wellington, to build a prototype headset which delivers ultrasonic waves to target drugs to specific brain areas.

"We make the drugs and put them in tiny biological packages which disguises them. And they float around in the bloodstream not doing very much.

"And when they go through the blood vessels in the brain, we target that area, break the package [with the ultrasonic waves] and the drug does its thing."

Among the potential applications were the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and brain cancer, where the system could be configured to allow drugs to bypass the brain’s protective mechanisms, he said.

"Using targeted therapy to deliver the drugs allows treatment without the side effects that come from drugs interacting with the rest of the body.

"For example, we’ve got great drugs for treating cancer, but we just don’t have good ways of getting them in the right areas in large enough doses to kill off the tumours and not hurt the rest of you."

Prof Reynolds said securing the patent was an arduous process, achieved with the help and guidance of University of Otago business development manager Tomas Ribeiro.

After "a lot of backwards and forwards" with the US Patent Office, Mr Ribeiro decided to get Prof Reynolds in front of the examiner on a Zoom call to explain the finer details of the invention.

"That really helped us identify the novel and inventive aspects of the patent application and they were quite happy to grant a patent to us."

Prof Reynolds said the patent was a major step forward, not only because of the size of the United States market, but because the invention could "piggyback" on the patent in other jurisdictions.

From here, the invention would need more funding and development before going into production, hopefully in the next five to 10 years, he said.