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Mon, 21 September 2020

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Microbubbles could revolutionise the future of drug discovery, by rescuing life-saving medicines

Medicines Discovery Catapult

3 min read Partner content

Cutting edge collaboration between Medicines Discovery Catapult and the University of Leeds takes microbubble technology one step closer to use in patients

Experts at Medicines Discovery Catapult and the University of Leeds are working on a pioneering method of delivering lifesaving drugs using microbubbles, as a joint research project begins at Medicines Discovery Catapult’s laboratories in Alderley Park today.

Many life-saving and life-improving drugs can’t be used to treat patients due to their toxic side effects. Microbubble technology, in which tiny gas-filled bubbles are used to transport drugs to specific tissues, could effectively ‘rescue’ these drugs, overcoming the current issues associated with their toxicity, or stability. This technology has the potential to pave the way for patients to have access to new treatments, in much less time, and at a much lower cost.

It is also hoped that microbubble technology could revolutionise the way that diseases like cancer are treated. It could do this by significantly reducing the amount of drugs that have to be given to patients, decreasing the side effects that normally come with chemotherapy drugs, for example. Doctors could also use a wider range of treatments for diseases, or fight infections with microbubbles attached to antibiotics.

Dr Peter Simpson, Chief Scientific Officer at Medicines Discovery Catapult, who is leading the research says:

“Many drugs fail to reach patients because they cannot be safely delivered to target tissues. This ground-breaking technology has the potential to drive drug discovery forward, by enabling the use of existing drugs that are currently unsuitable. The Medicines Discovery Catapult is here to help translate the best new technology and innovations – like microbubbles – into ground-breaking products. Our industry expertise and research rigour mean we’re expertly placed to support world class academic endeavour, in this case with our partners at the University of Leeds.”

The bubbles, which are one thousandth of a millimetre in size, fit in their thousands on a grain of sand. They are made, and then burst, by two machines developed by scientists at the University of Leeds. The first, called the Horizon platform, creates the microbubbles; once they are transported by the bloodstream to the right place in the body, the microbubbles are then burst with a second machine using ultrasound, which releases the drugs. The released drug can act at high concentrations on specific tissues without harming other areas of the body.

Professor Stephen Evans from the University of Leeds says:

“The potential that microbubbles technology presents is huge. In the future we’ll look back and wonder why it took us so long to combine drug delivery with physical mechanisms to enhance their uptake. We need people to test drugs and to speed up the translation process, which allows us to say this is an efficient methodology for the treatment of diseases. This collaboration will take existing research to the next stage and aims to validate the technology on a range of drug molecules, developing it to a stage suitable for future consideration in humans.”

The three-year research collaboration is the first project to be delivered from the Medicines Discovery Catapult’s new laboratories at Alderley Park, the flagship bio and life sciences campus in Cheshire. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is funding the University of Leeds research, with Medicines Discovery Catapult matching this by providing a range of expertise and resources in drug discovery and the laboratory facilities where the research takes place.

For more information on the Medicines Discovery Catapult visit

For further information on the University of Leeds and its microbubbles work visit


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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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