Delivery strategies for sustained drug release in the lungs

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2014 Aug;75:81-91. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2014.05.017. Epub 2014 Jun 8.


Drug delivery to the lungs by inhalation offers a targeted drug therapy for respiratory diseases. However, the therapeutic efficacy of inhaled drugs is limited by their rapid clearance in the lungs. Carriers providing sustained drug release in the lungs can improve therapeutic outcomes of inhaled medicines because they can retain the drug load within the lungs and progressively release the drug locally at therapeutic levels. This review presents the different formulation strategies developed to control drug release in the lungs including microparticles and the wide array of nanomedicines. Large and porous microparticles offer excellent aerodynamic properties. Their large geometric size reduces their uptake by alveolar macrophages, making them a suitable carrier for sustained drug release in the lungs. Similarly, nanocarriers present significant potential for prolonged drug release in the lungs because they largely escape uptake by lung-surface macrophages and can remain in the pulmonary tissue for weeks. They can be embedded in large and porous microparticles in order to facilitate their delivery to the lungs. Conjugation of drugs to polymers as polyethylene glycol can be particularly beneficial to sustain the release of proteins in the lungs as it allows high protein loading. Drug conjugates can be readily delivered to respiratory airways by any current nebulizer device. Nonetheless, liposomes represent the formulation most advanced in clinical development. Liposomes can be prepared with lipids endogenous to the lungs and are particularly safe. Their composition can be adjusted to modulate drug release and they can encapsulate both hydrophilic and lipophilic compounds with high drug loading.

Keywords: Liposomes; PEGylation; Polymeric carriers; Pulmonary drug delivery; Sustained release strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Animals
  • Delayed-Action Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Delayed-Action Preparations / chemistry
  • Delayed-Action Preparations / pharmacokinetics
  • Drug Carriers / administration & dosage
  • Drug Carriers / chemistry
  • Drug Carriers / pharmacokinetics
  • Drug Liberation
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*


  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Drug Carriers