Pharmaceutical companies invest large amounts of money in the development of new drug treatments with improved efficiency, faster recovery time and less side effects. Surprisingly, the way we take up most drugs has remained almost the same during the last century: we are still flushing our entire body with the drug, eventually affecting the healthy parts as well. This causes several side effects like sleepiness, loss of hair or severe organ damage. Therefore, novel pharmaceutical concepts, like targeted drug delivery, have started to attract interest. In this approach, the medication pills contain tiny microcapsules filled with the drug. The microencapsulated drug can then be directly guided, delivered and released specifically at the source of the disease. Most contemporary medical treatments are already based on such microcapsules which drastically reduce the side effects for the patient. However, a major challenge of this concept is the production of such microcapsules in large quantities. Not only is the current production speed too low, but today’s fabrication processes are also insufficient as they neither provide control over the capsule size, nor a uniform size distribution. Both of these factors are crucial for precise drug dosing and controlled release properties. Hence, a scalable and controlled microencapsulation process is essential to reach the demand for future medical treatments and further improve the efficiency of the treatment. During our project Microcaps, we have developed a technology to fabricate size- controlled microcapsules at industrial volumes, named emulsification optimized system “EOS”. The first prototypes have an increased productivity of a factor of 1000 compared to state-of-the-art processes. Next to the pharmaceutical market, precise microcapsules will bring benefits to various other markets. In cosmetics, for example, microencapsulation of active ingredients allows them to be taken-up more efficiently and improve the shelf-life of such products due to the added controlled release through the capsules. Overall, controlled microencapsulation has the potential to improve various goods of our daily life with benefits for our health, well-being, and the environment.
What is special about the project?
Microcapsules and microparticles are industrially used to protect active materials from its environment in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, agrochemical, nutraceutical, and probiotic products. Examples for protected micromaterials are drugs in pharmaceutics, anti-ageing substances in skin creams and aromas in food. Up to now, microcapsules and microparticles are fabricated through methods such as mixing, shaking, and ultra-sonication. While all of these procedures allow for a rapid production of large amounts of micromaterials, the final particle size is uncontrollable and exhibits a broad size distribution. On the contrary, micromaterials with controlled size and narrow size distribution, so called monodispersity, allow for precise doses, increased particle stability, and controlled release profiles. These benefits rely on the fact that all micromaterials have the exact same properties due to their equal size. Up to now, however, monodisperse micromaterials can only be produced at laboratory scales with microfluidic methods. Today’s microfluidic state-of-the-art devices are insufficient, non-scalable, and irreproducible, which makes industrial applications impossible. Microcaps tackles these hurdles by introducing a novel, highly scalable, and robustly operating EOS device. We envision bringing control to the world of microencapsulation at industrial volumes. The EOS of Microcaps enables a level of control over dosages and release profiles that is currently unmet by existing microencapsulated applications.
In March 2019 the company Microcaps AG was founded and is an official ETH spin-off. Microcaps is working with several clients across the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and cosmetics field. The interdisciplinary team currently consists of 12 people and covers fields of chemical and mechanical engineering, food science, chemistry, and materials science. Microcaps was awarded with the ZKB Pionierpreis 2020, is a W.A. de Vigier winner 2020, and was recognized in Forbes 30 under 30 in the DACH region.
In February 2021, Microcaps moved to a new location in the Biotechnopark in Zürich Schlieren. As of May 2021, Microcaps is employing 19, interdisciplinary team members. In later summer 2021, Microcaps will launch its EOS plant, available for oil-core, solid-shell, so-called OlioCaps capsules. These biodegradable OlioCaps allow to encapsulate hydrophobic substances such as flavors, fragrances, vitamins and solid substances such as powders, bacteria, etc.
Persons involved in the project
Last update to this project presentation 08.06.2021