Improving Patient Care

  • Rajesh Dave, whose groundbreaking methods for re-engineering tiny particles have fueled advances in areas like drug delivery systems, has been named a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Photograph courtesy NJIT
  • Rajesh Dave (right) and his former student, recipients of a Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award from the Research & Development Council of New Jersey for developing a manufacturing process to mask the bitter tastes of medications while delivering them effectively. Photograph courtesy NJIT
  • The lab at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellow Rajesh Dave works as a distinguished professor. Photograph courtesy NJIT

Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence fellow Rajesh Dave focuses on using research innovations to facilitate the delivery of personalized medicine.

Personal or precision medicine (PM) is a rapidly expanding field of health care in India. One researcher at the forefront of this development is Rajesh Dave. A distinguished professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s chemical and materials engineering department, Dave works to bridge the gap between innovations in the pharmaceutical field in the United States and the delivery of personalized medicine in India.

“My work concerns applying principles of chemical engineering and materials science to products that contain particles,” he says. This encompasses a vast array of products, as “over 80 percent of all products consist of particles in some form or another.”

Dave’s focus on particles is aimed at improving products, particularly medicines. “This area of expertise, which utilizes fundamental understanding of the materials and their surface interactions, is called particle engineering,” he says. “Being an engineer, I am also concerned about manufacturing processes, emphasizing both efficiency and reduced environmental footprint. Toward that goal, I apply multi-scale models to better understand the processes used for manufacturing.”

Interestingly, the work is not about drug discovery per se, but about making drugs more effective through particle engineering. “Our prolific work has resulted in licensing of our patented solvent-free particle coating technology for masking bitter drug taste, and the development of film technology for delivering nano-sized drugs for enhanced bioavailability,” says Dave. His current work includes producing “better-quality, smaller tablets at reduced manufacturing costs, through excipient engineering based on another patented surface-modification technology,” he says. “In addition, our work in patient-compliant films and precision dispensing has continued, and also includes 3D printing-based additive manufacturing.”

Precision or personalized medicine “leverages the fact that every person has a unique genome and, hence, a unique risk of and response to disease, to revolutionize treatment,” explains Dave. The impact is also game-changing on the level of distribution. “PM has tremendous potential to transform drug development,” he adds. This would enhance innovation by “opening pathways for small biotechnology companies, enabling faster discoveries of new drug molecules and quicker U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals.”

How does it work? Exactly as it sounds: by personalizing the medicine to each individual patient. “Doses can be specialized based on patient age, height, weight, race, etc,” says Dave. “This personalization is important, for example, as the needs for neonates, infants and toddlers vary greatly.”

Dave is a 2018-19 Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence fellow in the research category. He was hosted by the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. His project aimed at translating the key outcomes from his research innovations into systems for facilitating the delivery of personalized medicine, especially in India. “During my Fulbright stay,” says Dave, “I was fortunate to learn about the most effective and urgent area of application of PM in India from Vijay Chandru, chairman of Strand Life Sciences and an adjunct faculty at IISc. Their focus is on using genomics and data science, integrated with diagnostics and clinical research, to find personalized, cost-effective solutions for cancer therapy.”

As a Fulbright fellow, Dave is particularly well-placed to discover points of contact between innovations in the United States and their application potential in India. “Conventional tablets are neither convenient nor reliable,” says Dave. “They cannot be broken into pieces while assuring an exact amount of drug in each piece. In fact, other than syrups, which have multiple problems such as contamination and drug degradation in the presence of water, and unpleasant taste, there are no simple, accurate dose delivery systems.” He adds that translation of his U.S.-based pharmaceutical innovations to personalized medicine delivery can play an important role for future needs in India. “My work in the past dozen of years in particle engineering and manufacturing platforms could be leveraged,” he says. “Two such platforms include thin films technology, which is suitable for dose-on-demand dispensing, and 3D printing, meant for producing individual dosage on demand.”

Dave says that his Fulbright-Nehru experience had a great impact on his work in many ways. “I learned about India’s current activities and where my work could make an impact,” he adds. “I also conversed with several physicians, as well as academic and pharma industry researchers to get a better understanding of the complexities of making medicine and health care available to a large number of people in India.”

Dave also learned that PM has an important, albeit rather small, role to play within the core needs in India. “At the same time,” he says “it is an evolving niche area where India can have leadership, such as in bioinformatics, diagnostics and working with leading companies in the world.”

Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.