Published: 11 July 2022
Retinal diseases are the leading cause of visual impairment worldwide. The effectiveness of antibodies for the treatment of retinal diseases has been demonstrated. Despite the clinical success, achieving sufficiently high concentrations of these protein therapeutics at the target tissue for an extended period is challenging. Patients suffering from macular degeneration often receive injections once per month. Therefore, there is a growing need for suitable systems that can help reduce the number of injections and adverse effects while improving patient complacency. This study systematically characterized degradable “in situ” forming hydrogels that can be easily injected into the vitreous cavity using a small needle (29G). After intravitreal injection, the formulation is designed to undergo a sol–gel phase transition at the administration site to obtain an intraocular depot system for long-term sustained release of bioactives. A Diels–Alder reaction was exploited to crosslink hyaluronic acid-bearing furan groups (HAFU) with 4 arm-PEG10K-maleimide (4APM), yielding stable hydrogels. Here, a systematic investigation of the effects of polymer composition and the ratio between functional groups on the physicochemical properties of hydrogels was performed to select the most suitable formulation for protein delivery. Rheological analysis showed rapid hydrogel formation, with the fastest gel formation within 5 min after mixing the hydrogel precursors. In this study, the mechanical properties of an ex vivo intravitreally formed hydrogel were investigated and compared to the in vitro fabricated samples. Swelling and degradation studies showed that the hydrogels are biodegradable by the retro-Diels–Alder reaction under physiological conditions. The 4APM-HAFU (ratio 1:5) hydrogel formulation showed sustained release of bevacizumab > 400 days by a combination of diffusion, swelling, and degradation. A bioassay showed that the released bevacizumab remained bioactive. The hydrogel platform described in this study offers high potential for the sustained release of therapeutic antibodies to treat ocular diseases.
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