A thermally responsive biopolymer for intra-articular drug delivery

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Intra-articular drug delivery is the preferred standard for targeting pharmacologic treatment directly to joints to reduce undesirable side effects associated with systemic drug delivery. In this study, a biologically based drug delivery vehicle was designed for intra-articular drug delivery using elastin-like polypeptides (ELPs), a biopolymer composed of repeating pentapeptides that undergo a phase transition to form aggregates above their transition temperature. The ELP drug delivery vehicle was designed to aggregate upon intra-articular injection at 37 °C, and form a drug ‘depot’ that could slowly disaggregate and be cleared from the joint space over time. We evaluated the in vivo biodistribution and joint half-life of radiolabeled ELPs, with and without the ability to aggregate, at physiological temperatures encountered after intra-articular injection in a rat knee. Biodistribution studies revealed that the aggregating ELP had a 25-fold longer half-life in the injected joint than a similar molecular weight protein that remained soluble and did not aggregate. These results suggest that the intra-articular joint delivery of ELP-based fusion proteins may be a viable strategy for the prolonged release of disease-modifying protein drugs for osteoarthritis and other arthritides.

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