LiA Project – “The Development of Drug Delivery Systems to Treat Pulmonary Disease States Associated with Excess Mucus”

Article by Lucija Sili (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, Pharmacy)

In Summer 2 of the Laidlaw Programme I have the opportunity to expand upon my pharmaceutical research from the previous Summer as part of the ‘In-field application of research’ component of the Leadership-in-Action (LIA). My objective this summer was to lead a more challenging project which would bring the pharmaceutical industry a step closer to the successful delivery of a drug for treatment of lung diseases associated with excess mucus (asthma, COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, etc). The focus of the project moved from dry powder inhaler systems to physicochemical characterisation of aqueous based formulations for nebulisation. The work I conducted over the five weeks has greatly contributed to the development of a drug which, when marketed, will benefit the lives of people with diseases associated with excess mucus. The Summer 2 project has helped me develop my skills and behaviours on different levels and I believe these will aid me significantly in my future career.  

This summer I was working with a larger, more diverse group which involved Master’s and PhD students from different parts of the globe. During the first three weeks of the project, I led the investigation of characteristics of the aqueous based formulations for nebulisation, which included testing factors such as osmolality, density, viscosity, pH, and surface tension. The last two weeks included conducting in vitro deposition studies using the Next Generation Impactor and a vibrating mesh nebuliser. Some dry powder studies were conducted simultaneously. Since I was trained in the aforementioned techniques in Summer 1, I was  confident enough to lead both the project and the team. I applied my knowledge and skills obtained in Summer 1 in a more complex environment, with a much higher degree of responsibility and decision-making, while collaborating with people from different cultural and educational backgrounds. 

Upon completion of Week 5, all of the data was gathered and analysed, from which conclusions and comparisons were drawn regarding feasibility of formulating the mucolytic drug that we are investigating as either a dry powder inhaler or a nebulisation solution. The data showed more favourable characteristics and stability profile of the dry powder formulation. The pharmaceutical company which my team and I were working in collaboration with will be using the results and data from the study and proceed to formulate the drug into a dry powder for inhalation. 

During the course of the project, I showed leadership by organising and leading weekly team meetings in which my team and I discussed our progress. I structured these in a way to ensure that the focus on our goal is maintained throughout the project. I also showed leadership by employing critical thinking and problem solving during those meetings and also during the project itself. At the end of the project, I led an online presentation in which I presented my research findings to the pharmaceutical company we were working with. I led a team of a number of people to ensure the project, experiments, and tasks ran smoothly and that all the deadlines were met. 

My LIA experience will improve access to better treatment for people with mucus-associated lung diseases, for which there is currently a high demand. This LIA will benefit people with mucus-associated lung diseases as it will provide the basis for a novel, extremely beneficial medicine to be brought into the next stages of research, including human trials. This will eventually lead to the medicine being introduced to the market and thus helping numerous people around the world. 

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