UT pharmacy researchers reveal latest developments on drug delivery technology

Raiyan Shaik , General News Reporter

In an Oct. 31 press release, the College of Pharmacy revealed the latest findings on the development of their patented Thin Film Freezing technology — which rapidly freezes and dries medication into a powder — including the application of the technology to COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Bill Williams, molecular pharmaceutics and drug delivery professor, created the technology and continues to develop research with his lab and TFF Pharmaceuticals, the University’s commercial partner, according to the press release. 

“(TFF) represents a good example of how the research at the University transitions into potential commercial success and applications that (impact) the lives of people around the world,” said John Koleng, vice president of product development and manufacturing for TFF Pharmaceuticals.

The research addresses deficiencies in drug delivery, or how medication itself can sometimes harm the body in unintended ways, Williams said. He said when he began his research about 20 years ago, he initially focused on fungal infections in lung transplant patients that occurred due to side effects from large doses of immunosuppressive drugs. TFF allowed for a lower dose of the drug for inhalation, targeting the lungs directly and minimizing the risk for fungal infections.

Since then, Williams said the research has expanded significantly. 

“(TFF) has broad applications,” Williams said. “It’s been applicable to about every type of biologic we’ve worked with. The (only) limiting factor is our own minds.”

These new developments are promising for the future of COVID-19 therapies and biologic drug development, according to the recent press release. 

“If there’s any silver lining to (COVID-19), it forced us to look at (the problem with drug delivery),” Williams said. “It provided an opportunity for us to solve it, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’re just getting started.”

TFF also addresses the issue of accessibility. Many COVID-19 therapies require storage at extremely cold temperatures to remain stable, restricting access to countries without such facilities. However, TFF allows for the vaccines to be stored at higher temperatures, removing the need for ultra-cold freezers. Converting vaccines into inhalable forms also removes reliance on hospitals and injections.

“In a highly-populated country, you could go door-to-door with these nasal devices and administer (vaccines) easier with less burden on the health care system,” Williams said. “That’s really what’s motivating us.”

As TFF moves towards commercialization, TFF Pharmaceuticals and Williams’ lab continue to work on the initial developments related to lung disease.

Currently, TFF Pharmaceuticals has three treatments in clinical trials including a COVID-19 antiviral. The company plans to develop in-house therapies in addition to working with other pharma and academic partners. 

Research associate Chaeho Moon said Williams’ lab is developing new projects to expand TFF’s capabilities. 

“(TFF) truly is a homegrown example of what starts at UT changes the world,” Koleng said. “A lot of us bleed orange, and we’re very proud of (TFF’s) origins.”