UT scientists recognized for drug research

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Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Last month, the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences honored two UT researchers for their work to enhance the effectiveness of drugs in the body.

The researchers, Robert Williams III, head of the UT Division of Pharmaceutics, and former graduate research assistant Siyuan Huang authored a study determining the solubility of drugs.

Williams and Huang created a model that will better predict the solubility of drugs, or the ability of compounds to dissolve in the bloodstream.

According to the American Pharmaceutical Review, anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of new drugs entering development are poorly soluble. Williams and Huang’s paper outlines research that makes it easier for developers to increase solubility and decrease drug waste, which Huang said will increase the effectiveness of a drug by allowing the body to better absorb it.

When designing drugs, pharmaceutical companies use polymers, or molecules made of repeating units, to add physical structure to a drug, Huang said. He added that when these companies develop drugs, they use a default type and quantity of polymer. In the recent paper, Williams and Huang developed a method to cut down on trial and error by using a model to determine the correct ratios of polymers to drugs.

“No company or publication has established a model to predict solubility,” Huang said. “(Our) model can be further used in the industry for drug solubility prediction. The benefit is less drug wasted, saving money and (creating fewer) side effects.”

Amorphous solid dispersions, or ASDs,  are used to calculate the chemical potential of drugs. ASDs are made up of the polymer and drug mixed together, preventing pills from solidifying after being ingested and allowing the drug to better disperse in the body. The model uses ASD calculations to estimate the composition of molecules which would create more soluble drugs.

“We took ASDs that have been studied for a long time but with not a lot of benefit because they are not very stable,” Huang said. “That’s why we add a polymer. We took those two parts into consideration and created a new model.”

Williams said he became interested in drug solubility after he saw that many drugs were not making it in the market due to lengthy trials testing absorption and solubility.

“Most of those drugs are not moving forward because of issues with solubility,” Williams said. “I got interested in that because that is a big problem. The study provides a road map to test these drugs to hopefully speed up and facilitate the process to make drugs that are the most water soluble.”

Williams and Huang started working together in 2012. The duo’s paper, published last December, was honored by the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences with the award of “Most Original and Most Significant Scientific Findings.”

“I spent many months not doing anything else but dealing with this very exciting data,” Huang said. “But when we published the paper, my feelings were complicated because trying to publish a paper on a new idea is hard, especially for a non-native English speaker … when I found out about the honor I was so excited. It felt really good to be recognized.”

Huang graduated from UT in January and is now a research scientist at Eli Lilly and Company. Williams said the recognition also builds on the reputation of UT’s pharmacy program.

“The Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences is one of the most prestigious in our field so when I heard we’d received the honor I was very happy,” Williams said. “Not just for us but for the college, it was really, really good.”