Cancer nanomedicines were initially envisioned as magic bullets, travelling through the circulation to target tumours while sparing healthy tissues the toxicity of classic chemotherapy. While a limited number of nanomedicine therapies have resulted, the disappointing news is that major obstacles were overlooked in the nanoparticle's journey. However, some of these challenges may be turned into opportunities. Here, we discuss biological barriers to cancer nanomedicines and elaborate on two directions that the field is currently exploring to meet its initial expectations. The first strategy entails re-engineering cancer nanomedicines to prevent undesired interactions en route to the tumour. The second aims instead to leverage these obstacles into out-of-the-box diagnostic and therapeutic applications of nanomedicines, for cancer and beyond. Both paths require, among other developments, a deeper understanding of nano-bio interactions. We offer a forward look at how classic cancer nanomedicine may overcome its limitations while contributing to other areas of research.
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