Elan's drug delivery unit takes on innovation

While much has been written these past couple of days about what Irish drugmaker Elan is not doing--it is not spinning off its drug delivery division, citing poor market conditions--it is important to point out what exactly that drug delivery division, Elan Drug Technologies is doing.

For the past decade or so, EDT has been working on, and perfecting, its NanoCrystal technology, which essentially is a milling technique that breaks down drug crystal sizes to less than 2,000 nanometers. This seemingly small, simple solution addresses a few major problems facing the pharmaceutical industry today. The first is poor solubility of drugs. Even the most successful drugs often have trouble dissolving, so drugmakers tack on compounds to make it more soluble.

Unfortunately, patients read about the side-effects of those soluble compounds in the often-mocked, ubiquitous "fine print" that drug companies are forced to include in their commercials. Nano-sizing the drug compound increase its surface area, making it much more soluble. This increases the likelihood of patient compliance, not to mention an inability of generic drugmakers to copy the complete drug, since the compound can be reproduced once it's off patent, but not Elan's proprietary NanoCrystal technology.

Elan says its NanoCrystal technology is currently used in five commercialized products, including Invega Sustenna, an extended-release injectable suspension for schizophrenia approved by the FDA a year ago and marketed by Janssen in the United States.

While poor market conditions might be the reason EDT is not a separate company today, it is not because the drug-delivery unit is not innovating. In fact, it is because of innovation that inherently makes Elan risky. Like Elan Chairman Kyran McLaughlin told The Wall Street Journal back in May, Elan is a "risky business" like all drug development companies, and markets are currently averse to risk.

- read about Elan's NanoCrystal Technology
- here's latest on Elan at FiercePharma