The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted funding to a team of scientists at Bath University, in order to develop better methods to assess the performance of topically applied drug products, including creams and lotions for conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema.

The research, in collaboration with the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the Colorado School of Mines USA, plans to bring experts in advanced Raman spectroscopy and mass spectrometry imaging together with world leaders in topical drug delivery and formulation, in order to address the challenges.

Challenges include distinguishing the signal from the drug in the skin from the background signals originating from the skin itself, and researchers say that hopefully the “powerful imaging techniques” will provide complementary information to allow a detailed analysis of the drugs that are applied to the skin.

The hope is that such techniques will lead to new and accurate methods for the measurement and standardisation of topically applied drugs and, ultimately, the development and broader accessibility of more effective products.

Coherent Raman-based optical imaging methods enable “non-invasive, real-time chemical measurements” explained Dr Natalie Belsey, senior research scientist at the NPL.

She continued, “The mass spectrometry imaging capability at NPL brings major benefits of sensitivity and chemical specificity. In combination, these complementary spectroscopic imaging methods offer a powerful technology tool kit with which to asses and enhance the performance of formulated drug products.”

Current approaches to topical drug delivery, such as skin penetration tests, microdialysis and tape-stripping, can be “time-consuming, expensive and technically challenging”, meaning that finding standardised, reproducible, and validated protocols that accurately reflect the quality and performance of these drug products is important.