Texas invests record $3.5 million in startup cofounded by UT's Mauro Ferrari

November 20, 2008

NanoMedical Systems Inc., (NMS), an Austin-based startup cofounded by Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHSC-Houston), to improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer agents and other medications, has received a record $3.5 million Commercialization Award through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF).

NMS was one of six companies that received the ETF awards, which were announced by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

The grant will help accelerate the completion of engineering and pre-clinical testing for a device, which will allow for a controlled dose of medicine to be released into the bloodstream over many weeks or months. The device will be a safer, more reliable and less costly alternative to a long series of injections or clinical visits.

"From the information I have, this is the largest commercialization award (to private companies in collaboration with a university for product development) awarded from the emerging technology fund to date. They've gone to $3 million twice and $2 million five times out of 48 commercialization awards," said Wayne R. Roberts, associate vice president for public policy at the UT Health Science Center at Houston.

The goal of the ETF Commercialization Awards is to grow new small businesses and existing businesses to accelerate new products and services to the marketplace. The ETF also offers Research Superiority Acquisition Awards, which are designed to bring the best and brightest researchers in the world to Texas. Ferrari was a recipient of a $2.5 million Research Superiority Award in August of 2006.

"The NMS partnership with UTHSC-Houston is breaking down the barriers to successful commercialization of nano-bio technology by leading the way in the nanofabrication of components suitable for use in pre-clinical and clinical studies, a key goal of the Governor's office," said Peter Davies, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for research at the health science center.

The company's basic technology was developed by Ferrari, who is deputy chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint venture among UTHSC-Houston, The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Each small silicon chip through which the NMS device will deliver medication into the bloodstream has 100,000 nanochannels, each precisely dimensioned from engineered materials to a size near that of a drug molecule. The company is focusing on an anti-cancer drug that is used in long-term therapy for its first commercially viable product. Its research and development activities over the next year will include further design and testing of the device's chip and capsule, animal studies, and applications with the federal Food and Drug Administration.

"This is a dream situation," Ferrari said. "We have an opportunity to take decisive strides against cancer, working all together as a team: the company, the State of Texas, our university laboratory and our collaborating partners at several Texas institutions. University laboratories alone cannot bring medical innovations into the clinic; they need companies that will turn basic discoveries into new medical treatments and clinical devices."

Ferrari continued, "That is why it is such a privilege to 'fly in formation' with NMS: We can make a real difference in patient care. I am confident that the work we are doing will have benefits beyond cancer, with applications to cardiovascular and infectious diseases, among others. We will continue to explore new approaches in civilian medicine, but also in space and military medicine, with the support of the sponsors of our university laboratory research: NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health."
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The NMS device, called a Personalized Molecular Drug-Delivery System, or PMDS, is a small capsule designed to be implanted just under the skin in a simple office procedure. As development continues, the capsule will be made even smaller because it will contain mostly the active pharmaceutical agent and almost none of the bulk solution in which an injectable drug is usually dissolved.

Ferrari serves as director of the nanomedicine division at the UTHSC-Houston, professor of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, adjunct professor of bioengineering at Rice University, adjunct professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, president of the Alliance for NanoHealth, Houston, and adjunct professor of mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Houston.

The ETF is a $300 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 at the governor's request and was reauthorized in 2007. A 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts reviews potential projects and recommends funding allocations to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House.

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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