A look into the targeted nanoparticle therapies known as Accurins—developed by BIND Therapeutics, the brainchild of Partners HealthCare innovator Omid Farokhzad, MD, and MIT legend Robert Langer, ScD.
Cancer cells may give traditional chemotherapies short shrift, but the targeted nanoparticle therapies known as Accurins—developed by BIND Therapeutics, the brainchild of Partners HealthCare innovator Omid Farokhzad, MD, and MIT legend Robert Langer, ScD—promise to pack a stronger, more targeted, and more sustained punch. “Accurins were the first targeted nanoparticles with controlled release of the drug to enter human clinical trials,” says Dr. Farokhzad, a physician-scientist in the Department of Anesthesiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Director of the BWH Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials. BIND's leading drug candidate, BIND-014, is currently in Phase II clinical trials for two devastating and intractable diseases: non-small cell lung cancer and castration-resistant prostate cancer. The polymeric nanoparticles envelop drugs with a dynamic coating that targets the therapeutic payload to specific cells while bypassing healthy tissue, an attractive alternative to traditional cancer therapies that indiscriminately destroy tissue. But what sets Accurins apart from other technologies is the ability to circulate in the bloodstream for an extended period of time, evading elimination by the immune system. “The combination of these properties—enclosing the drug inside a nanoparticle, controlling the rate of drug release from the nanoparticle, and targeting to specific tissues—is important and unique,” Dr. Farokhzad notes. Beyond their likely clinical impact, Accurins have redefined the nanotechnology playing field by shaping the evolution of targeted therapies and nanomedicine for a wide range of conditions, including cardiovascular disease. But it didn't happen overnight. Developing the technology behind Accurins took time. “The key to the initial breakthrough was the coating,” recalls Dr. Langer. In a 1994 article in Science, his team described how specific nanoparticle coatings could help a drug avoid elimination by the liver and immune system, and circulate for an extended time in the blood. The next feat—targeting the nanoparticles to diseased cells—came to fruition when Dr. Farokhzad joined Dr. Langer's lab at MIT as a Visiting Scientist in 2002. Dr. Farokhzad devised the idea for a dual coating: a formulation of nanoparticles that could avoid some cells while homing to others. By 2006, Drs. Farokhzad and Langer reported the success of their targeted nanoparticles in the journal PNAS, and formed BIND Biosciences the following year. Last year, the company renamed itself BIND Therapeutics to reflect their rapid progression through the therapeutic pipeline. The Boston Globe named Farokhzad a “Top Innovator in Massachusetts” in 2013, noting his place among a “new breed of visionary physician-scientists who translate academic innovations into vital biotech start-ups.” The Boston Business Journal selected Farokhzad as a Healthcare Champion for Innovation in Medicine and in 2013, Farokhzad and Langer were named RUSNANOPRIZE Laureates, among the largest international nanotechnology prizes for their work in the discoveries and development of nanoparticle technologies for medical applications. Breakthrough technologies from Farokhzad's laboratory have spun off three companies—BIND Therapeutics, Selecta Biosciences, and Blend Therapeutics—raising more than $280 million to date. And that's only the beginning, Farokhzad says. His team intends to discover and develop a myriad of nanoparticles technologies for a number of other medical applications. “The impact of nanomedicine on patient care will be huge when we look back at this 20 or 30 years from now. We're going to be looking at a very different kind of medicine than we have today: much more targeted systems for identifying and characterizing disease, imaging disease, and reporting disease at a much earlier timeframe. We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now.”