Oral Drug Delivery work package – A gold mine for junior researchers

“Here, PhD Students and postdocs interact with leading research groups, aspiring start-ups and established companies. It is a dynamic environment that will ensure continued growth in the already dynamic Swedish life science sector.”

(Image removed) Vasiliki Barmpatsalou, SweDeliver PhD student

Oral drug delivery is widely considered the most promising administration route due to numerous specific advantages, including the ease of ingestion and sustained delivery. Still, oral systems face substantial challenges, such as the many biological barriers that may cause comparatively low therapeutic concentrations. Utilising the full potential of oral drug delivery therefore requires innovative research, in particular with a focus on biological drugs that that consist of larger and more complex molecules.

At the SweDeliver Oral Drug Delivery work package, research is conducted to contribute to the design of advanced systems, fulfilling the requirements for absorption of macromolecules from the small intestine and smaller molecules from the colon. Taking on these challenges accentuated by the industrial partners of SweDeliver, the initiative has already resulted in two new areas of research at the Faculty of Pharmacy.

“Large molecules are becoming increasingly important to pharmaceutical companies in the development of new drugs. Thus, we decided in dialogue with our industrial partners to make oral drug delivery of biologics and colonic drug delivery strategies the main objects of this work package. It is also our firm conviction that we will make significant progress by prioritising mechanistic understanding and the development of new in vitro and in silico models,” says Christel Bergström,Center Director and Professor of Molecular Pharmaceutics.

In the projectExperimental and theoretical models to predict drug release in and absorption from the colon, PhD student Vasiliki Barmpatsalou aims to add important knowledge to our understanding of the biological barriers impeding colonic absorption. In parallel, she hopes to pave the way for the development of new in vitro models that will offer more precise predictions of drug release in, and absorption from, the colon.

“The formulation of poorly soluble drug candidates as modified release dosage forms is a challenging task. Our aim is to assess the impact of key physiological barriers on colonic absorption. Hence, we hope to clarify the role of colonic fluids and mucus in the colonic performance of poorly soluble compounds. In doing so, we hope to provide new insights into the development and optimisation of experimental and theoretical models in order to support and accelerate formulation development,” Vasiliki Barmpatsalou says.

(Image removed) In the projectModified release formulations enabling colonic absorption of poorly solubles, postdoc Ilse Dubbelboer takes on the task of the many compounds in development that might experience limited absorption, which in turn could lead to low or erratic bioavailability. Sustained release formulations could be a promising dosing strategy for such compounds. However, colonic drug release, dissolution and absorption of poorly solubles is demanding due to the limited availability of colonic fluid, the mucus thickness and structure, the colonic peristalsis and the role of the microbiome.

”We have made significant progress in creating physiologically relevant in silico and in vitro models. To determine their general applicability to contemporary molecules, we test our prototypes using authentic compounds provided by our industrial partners. In the long-term perspective, we aim to enable future scientific studies that will add new knowledge to the understanding of aspects affecting colonic drug release,” Ilse Dubbelboer says.

The junior researchers enrolled in SweDeliver acquire both academic competence, an understanding of industrial conditions and access to extensive international networks. Here, PhD Students and postdocs interact with a range of leading research groups, aspiring start-ups and established pharmaceutical companies. In short, a dynamic environment that will play an increasingly important role in ensuring continued growth in the already dynamic Swedish life science sector.

“Our region currently ranks among the world's top 25 in the field of pharmaceuticals and drug delivery. It gives us every reason to be proud, but not to relax and lean back. To secure and, above all, advance this position, we need a broad recruitment base for universities and companies alike. Today, SweDeliver is an arena characterised by mutual trust, shared responsibility and co-creation. It increases our opportunities to recruit the most promising researchers and further equip them for a successful career in Swedish pharma,” Christel Bergström states.

Each junior researcher is assigned two supervisors, one at the Faculty of Pharmacy and one at an industrial partner. It is a set-up providing insight into academic and industrial challenges as well as versatile practice in presenting scientific progress in shifting contexts. Together, they form an international grouping that is already conducting high-quality research in a scientific field of strategic importance to both individual companies and our entire country.

“SweDeliver must be a gold mine for a young researcher, receiving support and positive challenges from top scientists in both academia and companies. This setting creates opportunities for significant accomplishments, which will in turn attract future generations of gifted students, PhDs and postdocs to Uppsala. This will increase opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry to meet potential new employees. To me, this is one of many major benefits for both academia, students and industry,” declares Jesper Lind, Senior Advisor at Orexo AB.

Following three years of continuous advancement, with in SweDeliver’s predecessor: Swedish drug Delivery Forum, several organisations in both Sweden and neighbouring countries have expressed their interest in joining the new competence center. Novel scientific challenges are outlined. Above all, amplified efforts are made to give PhD students and postdocs even more fruitful opportunities.

“The Swedish Drug Delivery Forum was preceded by years of preparatory work. Now that we have seamlessly transformed into our new setting, we have the time we need to set up educational initiatives of great value to students, young researchers and employees at our industrial partners. We already have extensive plans for digital tutorials, matchmaking events, joint activities with other universities, and more is underway. SweDeliver will unquestionably have a lot to offer,” Per Larsson Associate Professor and leader of the work package, concludes.

More information


  • Work package Leader
  • Associate Professor Per Larsson, Department of Pharmacy, Uppsala University
  • Professor Bertil Abrahamsson, AstraZeneca
  • Doctor Krista Ojala, Orion Pharma Oy

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt