Using Polymers to Develop Novel Medicines

What Are Polymers?

Polymers are large molecules made up of repeating structural units. They exist in nature – in the form of proteins and starch, for example – but can also be manufactured in a laboratory for a variety of purposes and applications such as plastics and coatings.

Polymers have a long history in healthcare. They are found in many medical devices, such as cardiovascular stents and orthopedic fixation devices used for the treatment of fractures, soft-tissue injuries or reconstructive surgery. They are also often used to improve the properties of certain medications – such as interferon alfa (Pegasys®) for chronic hepatitis, rGCSF (Neulasta®) for neutropenia, doxorubicin (Doxil®) for cancer, and therapies for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Relypsa’s Innovative Approach to Developing Polymeric Medicines

We have a rich legacy in polymer science and a unique approach to developing non-absorbed polymeric medicines that can treat a wide range of diseases addressable in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including hyperkalemia.

Since we were founded, we have focused on using our proprietary polymer drug discovery and optimization technology, which involves an efficient candidate synthesis and screening process. Our high-throughput chemistry quickly generates a large set of related polymers. Perhaps some bind toxins more tightly, are more rigid than others, or swell more in water. We measure these properties and ultimately select the polymer optimal for the specific disease we are pursuing.

While polymers are commonly used to modify or deliver medicines, we use the polymer itself as the medicine. The polymers that we create with our technology are designed to selectively recognize, target and remove the molecule that is causing the disease.

Our polymer medicines are delivered orally but are not systemically absorbed. They are designed to act and stay only in the digestive tract – a localized approach to systemic problems in the body. Since many drug-related toxicities result from systemic exposure, our polymer approach avoids side effects caused via systemic absorption. The safety of gut-restricted polymers has been previously demonstrated by drugs like colesevelam (Welchol®) and sevelamer hydrochloride (Renagel). Our technology has further improved this approach, with the intent to make polymers easier to ingest and decrease the potential for GI side effects.

We are working to develop a pipeline of other polymer-based medicines for diseases or conditions that have a significant impact on people’s lives and that could be addressed with a medicine that acts within the digestive tract. These could include gastrointestinal diseases, or disorders associated with mineral ion imbalance, high levels of bacterially produced toxins, diabetes, inflammation and many others.

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