By: | Winston-Salem Journal
|Keith Bonin (left), a professor of physics, and associate professors of physics Martin Guthold (center) and Jed Macosko (right), observe graduate student Jason Gagliano working with a recently installed IonTorrent Personal Genome Machine, which can accurately sequence a billion DNA bases in about four hours.|
NanoMedica Inc. represents a poster child — albeit a small one — for the potential of Piedmont Triad Research Park attracting nonlocal life-science research companies.
The company, founded in New Jersey in 2001, moved to the park in early 2011 to work closely with Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers, particularly biologists, chemists and physicists.
It has three employees, led by Roger Cubicciotti, its co-founder. Other co-founders are Alice Bryant and Peter Tolias. It expects to hire another employee in July.
The company focuses on lower-cost ways to conduct nanotechnology and molecular biology research and produce breakthrough drug discoveries, particularly involving cancer.
What distinguishes NanoMedica from other startup biotech companies is the level of university personnel involved in its development, business strategy and planning.
NanoMedica's contribution to the blossoming symbiotic relationship includes placing more than $100,000 worth of equipment in the university's physics department.
Cubicciotti took time to talk about how the company settled on Winston-Salem and its future plans. An edited version follows:
Q: How can your company differentiate itself with your research given the volume of cancer research already in existence?
A: We believed at the outset — and continue to believe — that the convergence of nanotechnology and molecular biology will be a major driver in shaping 21st-century medicine.
Recognizing that we were but a fledgling startup that couldn't possibly compete with well-capitalized biopharmaceutical companies, we adopted a somewhat unconventional business strategy. Rather than focusing our energy on raising equity capital to hire top-notch people and build infrastructure, we decided to try a different path that includes:
- Investing personal funds to develop the strongest possible intellectual property portfolio. We have rights to 11 issued patents and two pending-patent applications.
- Forming project-directed collaborations that also provide faculty, staff and students exposure to an entrepreneurial culture and potential revenue sources beyond state and federal funding agencies.
We are developing a Lab-on-Bead platform technology (which uses tiny studded beads that match a drug to a disease marker) for efficient, cost-effective discovery of preclinical cancer drug candidates, new diagnostic reagents that offer novel ways to recognize cancer markers at the earliest stage of disease and new intracellular probes to help researchers understand the molecular basis of cancer.
Q: Why the focus on cancer with your nanotech research?
A: We chose cancer as our target market because there had been little improvement in the safety and/or efficacy of cancer drugs over the preceding few decades.
We have learned that one of the most important commercial and clinical problems in drug discovery is cost.
We believe we will be able to provide our customers the ability to perform this kind of testing with up to 1,000-fold less material than currently used. Not only will this result in cost savings, but it will also enable investigation of new cancer targets that simply cannot yet be produced in sufficient quantities for well-controlled studies.
Q: How is your company able to do more with less with such a small staff?
A: NanoMedica is truly a nano company in every sense of the word. We've only had five employees over the past 10 years and at most three at any given time.
We have enormous support from researchers at the university, the medical center and other collaborators. They are motivated by the potential to solve important clinical and commercial problems, win grants, author high-impact publications and pioneer new areas of scientific pursuit. None of them receives a salary from NanoMedica. All of them are shareholders and stand to receive royalties on inventions licensed to the company.
From the get-go, against our better business judgment, our research and development has been largely technology-driven, beginning with visionary ideas that may never pan out. We've never attempted to raise equity capital, because investors wisely avoid significant technology risk.
Yet it is the excitement of demonstrating the improbable that has allowed us to attract extremely capable researchers working at the leading edge of nanotechnology, biophysics, molecular biology and cancer biology.
Q: What made Winston-Salem and the research park make sense?
A: It became clear after conducting an extended visit to Winston-Salem in early 2010 that this was the place for us to set up shop.
This state stands out among others in having developed a proactive, goal-directed economic-development strategy that combines historical competencies in design, furniture and textiles with emerging strengths in biopharmaceuticals, medical devices and nanotechnology.
It has defined a unique identity at the crossroads of design and life sciences. Few states have achieved such clarity.
Besides several layers of support from Wake Forest and the research park, the recent launch of the Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology by the N.C. Biotechnology Center's was an irresistible draw for NanoMedica.
Born and bred a tobacco town, Winston-Salem is 20 years into a forward-looking plan to reinvent itself as a thriving technology-based economy. NanoMedica is a direct beneficiary of this endeavor through both equity- and royalty-based agreements with local partners.
Q: Given the tenuous nature of nanotech and biotech, how does the company stand financially?
A: Historically, our technical direction has been validated by grants from the National Institutes of Health and N.C. Biotechnology Center.
We just received an excellent score on our most recent small business innovative research grant and are optimistic that resulting funds will take us from technology development to initial service sales by the second quarter of 2013.
The company will report a nominal loss for 2011 as a result of operating expenses and new equipment purchases. We anticipate breakeven by second quarter 2013 through a combination of grants and initial service revenues. Fingers crossed, we will turn a profit for the first time in 2013.
Q: What is on the horizon for the company, and when do you expect to have commercialized products?
A: We anticipate some small-scale packaging work beginning in the fourth quarter, such as a personal genome machine (with Life Technologies) and a hybrid multi-mode microplate reader (with Biotek Instruments).
We anticipate the third Wake Forest patent application to be licensed to NanoMedica by June, as well as two publications to be submitted to high-impact journals by Wake Forest/NanoMedica within the next three months.
Test marketing of a portable Gel Booster DNA imaging product and DNA testing services could take place by year's end, with the first commercial sale of both in the second quarter of 2013.
This story is part of an occasional series looking at local biotechnology companies at the Piedmont Triad Research Park.
About NanoMedica Inc.:
The company, founded in 2001, has an office in Piedmont Triad Research Park, but does much of its research in Wake Forest University's physics department in a collaborative partnership.
- It has three employees with plans to hire a fourth in July. It also has the services of Wake Forest researchers as unpaid shareholders in the company.
- Its focus is on using nanotechnology to develop drugs to treat cancer and DNA imaging products.
- The company has the rights to 11 issued patents and two pending patent applications.
- For more information, see www.nanomedica.com.
Fonte: Winston-Salem Journal