Platforms for the efficient epithelial transport of pharmaceutical applications using innovative particulate transport systems

In July 2011, the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), Germany Drug Delivery Department, headed by Professor Claus-Michael Lehr, partnered with the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) as part of a joint research initiative aimed at examining alternative modes of vaccine delivery, with a special focus on the design of new forms of vaccines that can be ingested or inhaled as opposed to subcutaneously injected.

The consortium, comprised of high-ranking partners from industry and the scientific community, all of whom are working towards the common goals of exploring new ways of delivering vaccinations and developing new vaccines, pools diverse talents from the fields of chemistry, pharmacy, and medical technology early on in the vaccine development process.  Based on the latest insights afforded by the field of materials science in the areas of pharmaceutical polymers, nano technology, biochemistry, and medicine, the consortium's focus is on the development of a cutting-edge platform technology for the effective and targeted transport of active ingredients using alternative types of vaccines.

A number of obstacles must be overcome to ensure a successful vaccination using the oral or nasal route. For one, active ingredients are not readily absorbed into the body across mucous membranes or the GI tract wall. Frequently, they are degraded by stomach acid and gastric enzymes before making it to their destinations. To keep this from happening, the often times ultrasensitive biotherapeutic agent is packaged inside special, non-toxic nano and micro transporters to allow the agent to cross the gastric or nasal mucosa unscathed.

An additional goal of the project is to develop and validate new, universally accepted in vitro models that would allow for the testing of the newly developed transport systems, and which would facilitate testing of their tolerance and efficacy in humans. Extensive animal testing would also be minimized using this approach. Lastly, using human or rather human-like model systems allows for the targeted design of vaccines that are ultimately intended for human use right from the outset.

Insights from this initiative will potentially afford Germany a clear-cut technological edge in the area of drug delivery technologies.




The project was launched on July 1, 2011, and was assigned the working title "Platforms for the efficient epithelial transport of pharmaceutical applications using innovative particulate transport systems" (PeTrA, promotion index: 13N11454-56) as part of the BMBF promotion measure "Efficient drug delivery in biological systems - BioMatVital: Biotransporter." Over the course of the next three years, new strategies for biotherapeutics formulation and non-invasive vaccine administration will be explored.

The PeTrA consortium is comprised of the chemical company Evonik Industries AG, the pharmaceutical company Merck Serono, the medium-sized business EMC microcollections GmbH, the Helmholtz-Centre for Infection Research (HZI) along with its satellite office, the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), and with the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (FhG/IGB).

Specialists at Evonik Industries are chiefly concerned with development of new polymers and their functionalization and formulation in nano and micro particulate systems. EMC contributes expertise in the area of micro and nano particle functionalization using biological transport molecules.

HZI researchers, working closely with their colleagues at FhG/IGB, contribute to the consortium's efforts aimed at developing human pulmonary and intestinal models by offering their expertise in the areas of oral vaccination particles (i.e. oral vaccine delivery) through its Vaccinology and Applied Microbiology Department and also in the area of bioavailability based on research conducted at HIPS.

Merck Serono, one of the world's oldest pharmaceutical-chemical companies, ensures access to competence in therapeutic vaccination as well as to an appropriate end-user market.


Evonik Industries AG

Merck Serono

EMC microcollections GmbH

Helmholtz-Institut für Pharmazeutische Forschung Saarland

Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik

Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Prof. Schubert, Polymersynthese)

Universität des Saarlandes (Prof. Schneider, Formulierung von Nano- und Mikropartikeln)

Universität Nijmegen (Prof. Brock, Molekularbiologie und zelluläre molekulare Mechanismen von Transportsystemen)

Universitätsklinikum Bonn (Prof. Knolle, Untersuchung von Immunogenität an in vitro und in vivo Modellen der Maus)

Charité Berlin (Prof. Walden, Untersuchung der Immunogenität an humanen Zelllinien)

Universität Kiel (Prof. Steckel, Inhalative Formulierung)



Dr. Markus Ehses


Evonik Industries

Funding Agency

BMBF - Federal Ministry of Education and Research