Meng Li Wins the Coveted Student Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Written by: Tracey Regan,

Meng Li, a fifth-year graduate student in the Otto H. York Department of Chemical, Biological, and Pharmaceutical Engineering, won a coveted student award for her efforts to improve the performance of medications from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

Sponsored by Pfizer, the 2017 Pharmaceutical Discovery, Development and Manufacturing Forum Student Award recognizes students who have made outstanding contributions to research, the development of innovative technology and its commercialization. Li received the award at the institute’s recent annual meeting in Minneapolis.

A specialist in particle engineering, she focuses on making poorly water soluble drugs, which comprise about 80 percent of the current pipeline, more easily and effectively absorbed by the body.

“If these drugs don’t dissolve, they can’t enter the bloodstream and take action,” she notes, adding, “By improving the way active ingredients in medications are embedded in them, we can ensure they begin to act immediately when people take them.”

Li researches two different approaches to drug performance. One method is to form crystalline nanoparticles, which are about 1000 times thinner than a strand of hair, and encapsulate them in a hydrophilic polymer matrix inside a multiphase solid material known as a nanocomposite. Because they have a large surface area as compared with traditional active ingredient crystals, they dissolve quickly despite their low solubility.

She has also explored dispersing an amorphous form of a drug (in which the crystalline shape is broken down) in a polymeric matrix via a relatively new process called nanoextrusion. Unlike a traditional hot melt extrusion, the drug nanosuspension is not only dispersed in a polymer matrix, but also dried. The amorphous form of the drug appears to dissolve much faster than the unprocessed drug.

Li has worked mostly with anti-fungal drugs and pain killers, although her research is designed to be widely applicable.

“Meng’s research enabled a novel platform technology – nanoextrusion – in preparing both nanocomposites and amorphous solid dispersions, for which she carefully selected polymer-drug pairs. Her work has allowed for a scientific, head-to-head comparison of both forms of the drug for the first time. This approach will allow pharmaceutical companies to establish decision-trees for drug formulations earlier in the process, and to streamline their development in bringing urgently needed medications to market faster,” said Ecevit Bilgili, director of the Particle Engineering and Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology Laboratory and Li’s adviser.

Her work has also been recognized by the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and the New Jersey Pharmaceutical Association for Science and Technology.