Clinical impact of serum proteins on drug delivery

J Control Release. 2012 Jul 20;161(2):429-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2011.11.028. Epub 2011 Dec 1.


Among serum proteins albumin and transferrin have attracted the most interest as drug carriers in the past two decades. Prior to that, their potential use was overshadowed by the advent of monoclonal antibodies that was initiated by Milstein and Koehler in 1975. Meanwhile intensive pursuit of exploiting transferrin, but above all albumin as an exogenous or endogenous carrier protein for treating various diseases, primarily cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and hepatitis has resulted in several marketed products and numerous clinical trials. While the use of transferrin has clinically been primarily restricted to immunotoxins, albumin-based drug delivery systems ranging from albumin drug nanoparticles, albumin fusion protein, prodrugs and peptide derivatives that bind covalently to albumin as well as physically binding antibody fragments and therapeutically active peptides are in advanced clinical trials or approved products. For treating diabetes, Levemir and Victoza that are myristic acid derivatives of human insulin or glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) act as long-acting peptides by binding to the fatty acid binding sites on circulating albumin to control glucose levels. Levemir from Novo Nordisk has already developed into a blockbuster since its market approval in 2004. Abraxane, an albumin paclitaxel nanoparticle as a water-soluble galenic formulation avoiding the use of cremophor/ethanol, transports paclitaxel through passive targeting as an albumin paclitaxel complex to the tumor site and is superior to conventional Taxol against metastatic breast cancer. INNO-206, an albumin-binding doxorubicin prodrug that also accumulates in solid tumors due to the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect but releases the parent drug through acid cleavage, either intra- or extracellularly, is entering phase II studies against sarcoma. An expanding field is the use of albumin-binding antibody moieties which do not contain the fragment crystallizable (Fc) portion of, conventional immunoglobulin G (IgG) but are comprised of monovalent or bivalent light and/or heavy chains and incorporate an additional albumin-binding peptide or antibody domain. The most advanced antibody of this kind is ATN-103 (Ozoralizumab), a trivalent albumin-binding nanobody that neutralizes the pro-inflammatory tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) as a causative agent for exacerbating rheumatoid arthritis. ATN-103 is currently in multi-center phase II trials against this debilitating disease. In summary, because albumin as the most abundant circulating protein cannot only be used to improve the pharmacokinetic profile of therapeutically relevant peptides and the targeting moiety of antibodies but also for peptide-based targeting as well as low-molecular weight drugs to inflamed or malignant tissue, it is anticipated that R&D efforts of academia and the pharmaceutical industry in this field of drug delivery will prosper.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Albumins / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Drug Carriers / therapeutic use*
  • Hepatitis C / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Transferrin / therapeutic use*


  • Albumins
  • Drug Carriers
  • Transferrin