Chemical Modification of Cellulose Esters for Oral Drug Delivery

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Virginia Tech

Polymer functional groups have critical impacts upon physical, chemical and mechanical properties, and thus affect the specific applications of the polymer. Functionalization of cellulose esters and ethers has been under extensive investigation for applications including drug delivery, cosmetics, food ingredients, and automobile coating.

In oral delivery of poorly water-soluble drugs, amorphous solid dispersion (ASD) formulations have been used, prepared by forming miscible blends of polymers and drugs to inhibit crystallization and enhance bioavailability of the drug. The Edgar and Taylor groups have revealed that some cellulose omega-carboxyalkanoates were highly effective as ASD polymers, with the pendant carboxylic acid groups providing both specific polymer-drug interactions and pH-triggered release through swelling of the ionized polymer matrix. While a variety of functional groups such as hydroxyl and amide groups are also of interest, cellulose functionalization has relied heavily on classical methods such as esterification and etherification for appending functional groups. These methods, although they have been very useful, are limited in two respects. First, they typically employ harsh reaction conditions. Secondly, each synthetic pathway is only applicable for one or a narrow group of functionalities due to restrictions imposed by the required reaction conditions.

To this end, there is a great impetus to identify novel reactions in cellulose modification that are mild, efficient and ideally modular. In the initial effort to design and synthesize cellulose esters for oral drug delivery, we developed several new methods in cellulose functionalization, which can overcome drawbacks of conventional synthetic pathways, provide novel cellulose derivatives that are otherwise inaccessible, and present a platform for structure-property relationship study.

Cellulose omega-hydroxyalkanoates were previously difficult to access as the hydroxyl groups, if not protected, react with carboxylic acid/carbonyl during a typical esterification reaction or ring opening of lactones, producing cellulose-g-polyester and homopolyester. We demonstrated the viability of chemoselective olefin hydroboration-oxidation in the synthesis of cellulose omega]-hydroxyesters in the presence of ester groups. Cellulose esters with terminally olefinic side chains were transformed to the target products by two-step, one-pot hydroboration-oxidation reactions, using 9-borabicyclo[3.3.1]nonane (9-BBN) as hydroboration agent, followed by oxidizing the organoborane intermediate to a primary alcohol using mildly alkaline H2O2. The use of 9-BBN as hydroboration agent and sodium acetate as base catalyst in oxidation successfully avoided cleavage of ester linkages by borane reduction and base catalyzed hydrolysis.

With the impetus of modular and efficient synthesis, we introduced olefin cross-metathesis (CM) in polysaccharide functionalization. Using Grubbs type catalyst, cellulose esters with terminally olefinic side chains were reacted with various CM partners including acrylic acid, acrylates and acrylamides to afford families of functionalized cellulose esters. Molar excesses of CM partners were used in order to suppress potential crosslinking caused by self-metathesis between terminally olefinic side chains. Amide CM partners can chelate with the ruthenium catalyst and cause low conversions in conventional solvents such as THF. While the inherent reactivity toward CM and tendency of acrylamides to chelate Ru is influenced by the acrylamide N-substituents, employing acetic acid as a solvent significantly improved the conversion of certain acrylamides. We observed that the CM products are prone to crosslinking during storage, and found that the crosslinking is likely caused by free radical abstraction of gamma-hydrogen of the alpha, beta-unsaturation and subsequent recombination. We further demonstrated successful hydrogenation of these alpha, beta-unsaturated acids, esters, and amides, thereby eliminating the potential for radical-induced crosslinking during storage.

The alpha, beta-unsaturation on CM products can cause crosslinking due to gamma-H abstraction and recombination if not reduced immediately after reaction. Instead of eliminating the double bond by hydrogenation, we described a method to make use of these reactive conjugated olefins by post-CM thiol-Michael addition. Under amine catalysis, different CM products and thiols were combined and reacted. Using proper thiols and catalyst, complete conversion can be achieved under mild reaction conditions. The combination of the two modular reactions creates versatile access to multi-functionalized cellulose derivatives.

Compared with conventional reactions, these reactions enable click or click-like conjugation of functional groups onto cellulose backbone. The modular profile of the reactions enables clean and informative structure-property relationship studies for ASD. These approaches also provide opportunities for the synthesis of chemically and architecturally diverse cellulosic polymers that are otherwise difficult to access, opening doors for many other applications such as antimicrobial, antifouling, in vivo drug delivery, and bioconjugation. We believe that the cellulose functionalization approaches we pioneered can be expanded to the modification of other polysaccharides and polymers, and that these reactions will become useful tools in the toolbox of polymer/polysaccharide chemists.

cellulose esters, functionalization, amorphous solid dispersion, olefin metathesis, thiol-Michael addition, esterification, hydroboration oxidation, click reaction.