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Herein, excipients are investigated to ameliorate the deleterious effects of lyophilization on peptide-polymer nano-polyplex (NP) morphology, cellular uptake, and bioactivity. The NPs are a previously-described platform technology for intracellular peptide delivery and are formulated from a cationic therapeutic peptide and the anionic, pH-responsive, endosomolytic polymer poly(propylacrylic acid) (PPAA). These NPs are effective when formulated and immediately used for delivery into cells and tissue, but they are not amenable to reconstitution following storage as a lyophilized powder due to aggregation. To develop a lyophilized NP format that facilitates longer-term storage and ease of use, MAPKAP kinase 2 inhibitory peptide-based NPs (MK2i-NPs) were prepared in the presence of a range of concentrations of the excipients sucrose, trehalose, and lactosucrose prior to lyophilization and storage. All excipients improved particle morphology post-lyophilization and significantly improved MK2i-NP uptake in human coronary artery smooth muscle cells relative to lyophilized NPs without excipient. In particular, MK2i-NPs lyophilized with 300 mM lactosucrose as an excipient demonstrated a 5.23 fold increase in cellular uptake (p < 0.001), a 2.52 fold increase in endosomal disruption (p < 0.05), and a 2.39 fold increase in ex vivo bioactivity (p < 0.01) compared to MK2i-NPs lyophilized without excipients. In sum, these data suggest that addition of excipients, particularly lactosucrose, maintains and even improves the uptake and therapeutic efficacy of peptide-polymer NPs post-lyophilization relative to freshly-made formulations. Thus, the use of excipients as lyoprotectants is a promising approach for the long-term storage of biotherapeutic NPs and poises this NP platform for clinical translation.
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