Talking Soap with Professor and Biotech Pioneer Dr. Jonathan Lovell

The University of Buffalo professor is working with several startups to make injections safer and improve cancer treatment.

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The University of Buffalo professor is working with several startups to make injections safer and improve cancer treatment.

Talking Soap with Professor and Biotech Pioneer Dr. Jonathan Lovell

Office Hours with Dr. Jonathan Lovell

The University of Buffalo professor is working with several startups to make injections safer and improve cancer treatment.

By Jesse Sisler, DePaul University


Dr. Jonathan Lovell is a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Buffalo, where he is researching methods to produce injectable medicines without harmful additives.

Lovell is also involved with two Biotech startup companies in Buffalo.

Jesse Sisler: Your team is developing a solution to potentially hazardous additives in injectable drugs. What are these additives and what risks do they pose?

Jonathan Lovell: Many drugs don’t dissolve in water, but if they’re going to be injected, they somehow need to get dissolved. Right now, in the pharmaceutical industry, the standard way to dissolve drugs is by using what’s called surfactants, or soap basically. Unfortunately, these soaps can have adverse side effects, and they also change the way the drugs behave, which complicates analysis.

Talking Soap with Professor and Biotech Pioneer Dr. Jonathan Lovell
Photography by Yusong Shi, University of Buffalo

JS: What kind of solution are you working on?

JL: Well, we used a special type of biocompatible soap that when you lower the temperature, it kind of stops being a soap, which allowed us to then strip away all of the small soap molecules and end up with just the concentrated drug nanoparticles.

JS: What kind of application does this technology have?

JL: It’s a very broad, umbrella thing, and we showed in [a “Nature Communications” publication] about ten different drugs that this technique could be used for.

We call the process “surfactant stripping,” or soap stripping, so we strip away all the excess soap to produce a nearly pure drug. Now, I think we need to look at what areas involving soap in the pharmaceutical formulation cause the biggest problem.

JS: What sort of real-world impacts could it have?

JL: Well there are a few candidates [for the technology] that we thought of. For instance, certain cancer drugs are known to inject a large volume of the soap when a patient receives it, so those are the ones we’re looking very closely at if we can make some advantageous formulation.

JS: You’re also trying to make the Buffalo area a significant player in the biotech industry. Why’s that?

JL: Engineering these days is supposed to be applied, which means that research ideally would have some tangible benefits in the near term. However, with the field I’m in—drug delivery—and because of the stringency of the FDA process, it’s difficult to see any fruits of your labor without an aspect of commercialization.

JS: So by commodifying your research, you’re enabling further scientific advancement within your field?

JL: Given the cost of bringing a drug to market, [commodification] is kind of the only way that things will reach a clinic.

As a result, I’ve gotten involved with two startups in order to help them gain traction and really push things into clinical stages. As a side effect, hopefully there can be economic benefits to the Western New York region.

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