STAR Particle Tech Lures Venture Capital Funding
Skin diseases affect more than 2 billion people, of all ages. These diseases can be congenital, infectious, degenerative, inflammatory, sometimes cancerous, and often are hard to treat. Drugs applied topically are poorly absorbed across the skin barrier, while oral or injected therapeutics can lead to unwanted side effects.
But a medicinal skin cream containing microscopic STAR particles comprised of microneedle projections is one step closer to becoming a commercial reality with the emergence of Aldena Therapeutics from a Georgia Institute of Technology lab.
Mark Prausnitz, principal investigator of the Laboratory for Drug Delivery, has announced a series A investment of $30 million for Aldena – the company he co-founded – from Medicxi Ventures. Series A is typically a startup company’s first significant round of venture capital financing.
“This puts us in a very secure position, where we can focus on the research and meeting milestones, so that we can make a real difference in medicine,” said Prausnitz, Regents Professor and J. Erskine Love Jr. Chair in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Prausnitz previously teamed up with his former grad student, Andrew Tadros, to adapt his lab’s microneedle technology and develop STAR particles. While the patches have proved successful at administering drugs and vaccines across the skin in small areas., they are more cumbersome for dermatological conditions that affect large areas of the body.
“So that led to the idea of taking the microneedle technology concept to make these STAR particles and mixing them into a gel or cream,” said Prausnitz.
Then, the mechanical action of simply rubbing the topical formulation on the skin causes the STAR particles to roll and slide around and make micro pores in the skin.
“That enables drugs to get where they need to be more efficiently,” said Prausnitz. “We think it can open the door to lots of different topical dermatological therapies.”
Medixci Ventures thinks so, too. The London-based firm invests in promising life-sciences companies and can boast of a diverse portfolio of startups with a wide-range of focus.
After co-authoring the STAR particle study, Prausnitz and Tadros (now an MD candidate at Emory University) wondered what to do next with their research, when they contacted John Harris, chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
Harris had recently launched a company with financing from Medixci and thought the venture firm might be interested in STAR particles. Introductions were made “and that led to an extended discussion – phone calls every week,” Prausnitz said, between the engineers, dermatologist, and venture capitalists.
“We needed Medixci’s expertise in strategizing and building up the concept of the company,” Prausnitz said.
They hired pharmaceutical industry veteran Thibaud Portal to be CEO and Aldena officially became a company in July, with Prausnitz, Tadros, and Harris as co-founders. Currently, Portal, Prausnitz, and Medixci partner Michele Ollier are Aldena’s board of directors.
“This is an important step toward making a difference in medicine,” Prausnitz said. “Our main mission at Georgia Tech, of course, is to educate students, and to advance knowledge and science. But it’s really nice if all of that can also result in commercializing technology that might impact health care.”