Drug delivery as a sustainable avenue to future therapies

Climate change and the need for sustainable, technological developments are the greatest challenges facing humanity in the coming decades. To address these issues, in 2015 the United Nations have established 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Anthropogenic climate change will not only affect everyone personally in the coming years, it will also reinforce the need to become more sustainable within drug delivery research. In 2021, I was appointed professor for pharmaceutical biology at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg. Our research is at the interface between developing biogenic therapies and understanding of bacterial infections.

In this contribution to the Orations – New Horizons of the Journal of Controlled Release, I would like to underline the need for future sustainable approaches in our research area, by highlighting selected examples from the fields of infection research, natural product characterisation and extracellular vesicles. My aim is to put into perspective current issues for these research topics, but also encourage our current student-training framework to contribute to education for sustainable development. This contribution is a personal statement to increase the overall awareness for sustainability challenges in drug delivery and beyond.

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Is there a need for sustainable drug delivery?

In modern pharmaceutical research and translation, drug delivery plays a pivotal role because it provides the relevant link between fundamental drug discovery and the clinical application of medicine. The success of this research area has been showcased in the past decades through formulations, such as Doxil®, Ambisome® or recently approved liposomal anticancer drugs [1]. Nevertheless, the number of products marketed from this field do not fully reflect the extensive amount of academic research

The sustainable development goals and their implications in our daily research

To increase awareness for sustainable development and to address the challenges that humanity will face in the coming decades, the United Nations have formulated 17 goals in the categories finance, capacity building, trade, systemic issues and technology (a selection of which is shown in Fig. 1).

These goals formulated in 2015 are designated to create a larger sustainability definition, which is not solely focussed on ecological sustainability. Indeed, there are several aspects of sustainability

Bacterial infections and natural product characterisation

With at least 700,000 annual deaths estimated globally [13], and up to 15,000 in Germany [14], bacterial resistance to antibiotics has risen rapidly over the past decades [15]. A recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported that annually 35,000 people die from antimicrobial-resistant infections in the EU/EEA each year. According to the World Economic Forum, infectious diseases is one of the ten short-term global risks listed in the 2022 global risk report.

Extracellular vesicles as an example for biogenic carriers

EVs are a group of biogenic nanocarriers that we have invested substantial research effort into in the past years. EVs are cell-derived particles of 50–200 nm size, which are naturally produced by virtually all eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells and are involved in intercellular communication [4]. A specific interaction with target cells mediated by membrane proteins and vesicle phospholipids has sparked interest in the use of vesicles for drug delivery [5,42]. Compared to artificial lipid

Education for sustainable development in pharmacy and beyond

According to the sustainable development goals (Fig. 1), quality education in pharmaceutical sciences for students and postgraduates is of highest priority to our academic work. In a subject such as pharmacy, the way in which we train students at the undergraduate level is important because still the majority of pharmacists will work in communal pharmacies. They will be in direct and daily contact with customers and patients and we need to provide them with the tools to explain the correct use

The way forward?

Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword that companies are using to better merchandise their products or that researchers add to their manuscripts to push a hot topic. Sustainability is a pivotal need in both our daily lives AND in academia because they are interconnected. In this opinion paper, I purposely aimed at covering a large width of topics, all connected by the need to take the challenges of climate change into consideration when designing future avenues. In the research area of


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Gregor Fuhrmann, Drug delivery as a sustainable avenue to future therapies, Journal of Controlled Release, Volume 354, 2023, Pages 746-754, ISSN 0168-3659, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jconrel.2023.01.045.

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