It shouldn’t be a big surprise that Wei-Chiang Shen wanted to be a painter.
After all, the John A. Biles Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the USC School of Pharmacy has to be pretty creative in the lab, where he’s working to find new ways to deliver large molecule therapies.
Proteins and peptides – large molecules – represent a new generation of therapeutic agents which appear to be more potent and specific, yet less toxic than the conventional drug – particularly for treating chronic diseases. Biotech companies have successfully produced large numbers of proteins and peptides, including interleukins and growth factors, that are potentially useful for the treatment of various human diseases.
“But none of this means a thing if we are not able to carry the medicine to the right place in the body while still maintaining the drug’s integrity and ability to do its job,” says Shen. “It’s my job to make the delivery happen.”
Shen wants to overcome the biggest hurdles to large molecule drug delivery – gastrointestinal digestion and the epithelial barrier – and find a way to efficiently provide them as a simple oral pill. “Right now it’s all injections, which has low compliance, or inhaling – which still has not been proven effective long term,” he says.
“It would be much more acceptable and useful to go the oral route.” So Shen approaches the problem like a blank canvas: start with compounds that may carry the molecules into the body and then on to the cells, find ways of adding new molecules…and, hopefully soon, he says, “you’ll have a complete picture.”