Albumin as a drug carrier: design of prodrugs, drug conjugates and nanoparticles

J Control Release. 2008 Dec 18;132(3):171-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2008.05.010. Epub 2008 May 17.


Albumin is playing an increasing role as a drug carrier in the clinical setting. Principally, three drug delivery technologies can be distinguished: coupling of low-molecular weight drugs to exogenous or endogenous albumin, conjugation with bioactive proteins and encapsulation of drugs into albumin nanoparticles. The accumulation of albumin in solid tumors forms the rationale for developing albumin-based drug delivery systems for tumor targeting. Clinically, a methotrexate-albumin conjugate, an albumin-binding prodrug of doxorubicin, i.e. the (6-maleimido)caproylhydrazone derivative of doxorubicin (DOXO-EMCH), and an albumin paclitaxel nanoparticle (Abraxane) have been evaluated clinically. Abraxane has been approved for treating metastatic breast cancer. An alternative strategy is to bind a therapeutic peptide or protein covalently or physically to albumin to enhance its stability and half-life. This approach has been applied to peptides with antinociceptive, antidiabetes, antitumor or antiviral activity: Levemir, a myristic acid derivative of insulin that binds to the fatty acid binding sites of circulating albumin, has been approved for the treatment of diabetes. Furthermore, Albuferon, a fusion protein of albumin and interferon, is currently being assessed in phase III clinical trials for the treatment of hepatitis C and could become an alternative to pegylated interferon. This review gives an account of the different drug delivery systems which make use of albumin as a drug carrier with a focus on those systems that have reached an advanced stage of preclinical evaluation or that have entered clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Biological Transport
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Drug Carriers*
  • Drug Compounding
  • Drug Design*
  • Drug Stability
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Prodrugs / chemistry*
  • Prodrugs / metabolism
  • Protein Conformation
  • Serum Albumin / chemistry*
  • Serum Albumin / metabolism


  • Drug Carriers
  • Prodrugs
  • Serum Albumin