INFLOW, a technological platform for the encapsulation of active ingredients
The INFLOW project for the formulation, characterisation and engineering of micro- and nanospheres and biochemicals is closing in on four years of research and development. The consortium - which involves four partners from the Euregio Meuse-Rhine (EMR) (University of Liège, Maastricht University , Sirris, DWI-Leibniz Institut für Interaktive Materialien) - has enabled the creation and development of a technological platform unique in Europe for the flow production of (bio)degradable carrier materials and their efficient (rapid and at low costs) formulation. This technology will enable companies to create new products with high potential for, among others, health care, food/feed and cosmetics industry.
n contrast to conventional batch processes, (micro)fluidics allows the continous and reproducable formulation of micro- & nanosphere-carriers with superior control of characteristics, such as size and size-distribution and active ingredient content. In addition, the microfluidic formulation process is easy to implement, fairly compact and requires little space for implementation. Microfluidic processes are characterised by low energy consumption, making them attractive for environmental concerns, and are inherent safety due to the low volumes in the reaction space.
It is in this perspective that the INFLOW project (Interreg Meuse-Rhine) was developed, which aims to support companies based in the Meuse-Rhine region in the development of innovative products in the food/feed, cosmetic or pharmaceutical fields. This project has enabled the development and implementation of a unique platform offering knowledge and know-how on continuous flow technologies ((micro)fluidics) applied to the efficient production of formulations. These are based on microspheres or capsules of porous silica or degradable polymers encapsulating an active ingredient, such as a drug or a perfume, and serving as a support to protect their content until final delivery.
Supported by the expertise of the consortium members, including the Universities of Liège and Maastricht, the DWI Leibniz Institute in Aachen and the Sirris research centre based in the Liège Science Park, the INFLOW platform has enabled the development of innovative formulations focusing on six main areas covering the fields of expertise of the fourteen companies that participated in this open technology platform.
During the INFLOW project, a wide range of products has been developed, raising the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) in general from TRL 2 (Technology concept formulated) to TRL 5 (Technology validated in relevant environment), start TRL 6 (Technology demonstrated in relevant environment). These innovative products include degradable drug-loaded carriers for ophthalmic delivery, surface-decorated 'nanocarriers' (nano-scale carriers) for tumour targeting, degradable particles for vessel embolisation therapy and dye-loaded carriers for medical detection and imaging. TRL5, start TRL 6 was also reached for fluidic production processes to synthezise high value-added Polymer-based compounds and monomers for innovative degradable polymers, namely polyphosphoesters. Further examples include porous silica formulations for supplementary feeding of cows, or radiopaque microspheres for in vivo therapies.
The openness of the INFLOW platform and the unique four-level intellectual property management plan implemented during the project facilitate and sustain interactions with companies eager for benefiting from the consortium's expertise. Thus, any company can benefit from the platform through the strong research axis related to its field of activity. Thanks to the interactions between the academic world and the industrial field, the development of numerous microfluidic prototypes was carried out during the project allowing the efficient formulation of various ingredients. Indeed, a large variety of degradable polymers (poly(phospho)-esters, polysaccharides) and porous silica can be formulated into different types of carriers such as nano- and microspheres, capsules or multilayer particles. Furthermore, the carriers can be optimised for a wide variety of ingredient parameters, such as solubility (water soluble or not) or sensitivity to external stimuli, and tested in a lab-controlled, relevant environment.
The INFLOW technology platform is now a unique development tool available to Euregional companies to accelerate the emergence of new products on the market and maintain their competitiveness.
Christine Jérôme (ULiège, IN FLOW project leader): "With INFLOW, we have given birth to a unique baby with four parents from three different countries. A new player in the Euregio Meuse Rhine landscape of which we are proud and which we hope will be able to grow further in the coming years to bring the flow technology products closer to the market .
Julien Dumoulin (RISE-ULiège): "IN FLOW is an impactful project, with a strong partnership that has created real synergies between the academic and industrial worlds. We look forward to continuing our successful cross-border collaboration and to bringing it to the next level."
Ana Tomljenovic (Interreg EMR): "We are glad to hear that the INFLOW partners are continuing their cross-border collaboration in the region. In our role as an Interreg programme we are also very proud to support such a successful project and see the real-life applications. Personally, I was very happy to witness the strong ownership the partners had over their innovations. I hope that the Interreg Meuse-Rhine (NL-BE-DE) programme 2021-2027 can support more such successful and innovative projects!"
The INFLOW project was realised within the framework of the Interreg V-A Euregio Meuse-Rhine programme, with €2.1 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). By investing European funds in Interreg projects, the European Union is investing directly in economic development, innovation, territorial development, social inclusion and education in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine.