Robbert Jan Kok appointed professor of Drug Delivery Technology
As of 1 April 2021, Utrecht University has appointed Robbert Jan Kok as Professor of Drug Delivery Technology. As a professor, Kok will explore new ways of administering medicines and investigate possibilities for improving the preparation of medicines through 3D printing. Kok combines his chair with his current duties as Director of Education in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
We are mainly familiar with medicines in the form of tablets, capsules, suppositories, creams and injections. Their preparation has traditionally been an important responsibility of pharmacists. In addition to these familiar forms, new technologies will enable a whole range of new medications. As Professor of Drug Delivery Technology, Robbert Jan Kok will explore their potential, particularly 3D printing and nanomedicine.
3D printing of medicines
“3D printing is a new way of preparing medicines on a smaller scale,” he explains. According to Kok, this offers several advantages. “You can use it to make medicines in doses that are not routinely available. This is particularly interesting for children, but also for other patients who need a particular dose. Such dosage varieties aren’t always supplied by the pharmaceutical industry. If pharmacies or hospitals themselves start to 3D print medications with specific dosages, they can quickly offer them custom-made.”
Kok compares the process to buying paint from the hardware store. “These stores have a lot of paint in stock, but often you want a specific colour, which they then make for you on the spot. After all, stores can't stock every imaginable colour, and the paint manufacturers can't supply all the colours everywhere.”
Together with the UMC Utrecht and the Princess Máxima Center, Kok aims to work on a facility that enables 3D printing of medicines. To pave the way for such a facility, he will spend the next few years researching topics such as the processes and possibilities of 3D printing for medications. Kok: "Our aim is not to create a new 3D printer, but to look at how you can use existing techniques. One of the challenges we face is preventing the drug from decomposing during printing, and how excipients can influence the delivery.”
Developing new ways to get drugs to the right place in the body is also one of Kok’s research aims. “We need new strategies for drug delivery,” says Kok. “Many substances might work well if they reach the right place in the body, but they have side effects in other body parts. As a result, they end up being unsuitable. If you develop a way to let the drug mainly end up where it's supposed to work, then you have fewer side effects, and you can use the drug safely after all.”
Kok focuses primarily on nanomedicines, which can be directed very specifically to the particular part of the body where they are needed most. To guide them, the drugs are packaged in nanoparticles. The particles contain molecules that bind to the tissue where the drug is supposed to be effective. The molecules do not bind to other tissues, eliminating the possibility for them to cause side effects there.
Kok: “If you know, for example, that a certain drug for kidney problems is harmful to the heart, then you can make sure that it doesn't get into the heart. You can control how the drug moves through the body, where it is released and how it is discharged from the body again.”
Research and teaching
Kok combines his professorship with his current duties as Director of Education in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Bachelor’s degree programme in Pharmacy. His chair consists of 50 percent research and 50 percent teaching. Kok: “This means that I will focus relatively more on education. Normally a chair is divided between 70 percent research and 30 percent teaching.”
The equal distribution enables Kok to create closer connections between the two areas. This way, new insights resulting from his research will reach pharmacy students much easier. “I think it's important to introduce students to this subject. Pharmaceutical Science does have many tried and tested methods of preparing medicines, but these innovations are also attractive and valuable to work with.”
Robbert Jan Kok
Prof. Robbert Jan Kok is affiliated with the Pharmaceutics division of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Since April 1 2017, he has served as the Director of Education in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Bachelor’s degree programme in Pharmacy. He is a lecturer in the undergraduate and graduate Pharmacy programmes and the graduate Drug Innovation programme. He participated in the development of the international undergraduate program College for Pharmaceutical Sciences and the 2016 Pharmacy curriculum revision. His research focuses on improving the pharmacokinetics of drugs through innovative delivery modalities, such as nanomedicines and preparations for controlled drug delivery.