Australian spin-offs pursuing nanotechnology innovations

By Pete Mansell

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nanotechnology

A transdermal patch for needle-free delivery of insulin and a
diagnostic test for rapid detection of meningococcal disease are
among the products under development by two new Australian
companies set up to commercialise the research outcomes of
Nanotechnology Victoria (NanoVic).

The spin-offs, Interstitial NanoSystems (Interstitial NS) and Quintain NanoSystems (Quintain NS), were announced by Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and Minister for Innovation John Brumby at the BIO2007 Conference in Boston, US last week.

Each has a portfolio of four complementary projects for which NanoVic owns commercial rights.

Each is seeking between A$20m and A$25m (€12.3m-€15.4m) to take these products to market.

The portfolios, which include transdermal and pulmonary nanoparticle delivery for large-molecule drugs (Interstitial NS) as well as nanoparticle-based diagnostic imaging and NanoArray diagnostic biochips for high-sensitivity laboratory-based diagnosis (Quintain NS), have been built around strategic investment of nearly A$14 million by NanoVic and more than a dozen partners since 2004.

The aim is to market the resulting products in Australia, the US and Europe once they have been through the necessary clinical trials and regulatory approvals.

Dr Bob Irving, director of Interstitial NS and Quintain NS, and NanoVic managers Dr Sarah Morgan and Dr Jeanette Pritchard are holding discussions with potential development partners and investors before determining the "ultimate corporate forms" of the independent entities, NanoVic noted.

Three leading Victorian institutions, Monash University, RMIT University and Swinburne University of Technology, are shareholders in, and research and technology providers to, NanoVic.

Described as "the key organisation for delivering nanotechnology research outcomes" to industry in the South East Australian state, NanoVic also has financial backing from the State Government of Victoria.

The Interstitial NS transdermal delivery patch for insulin has already been tested on animals by the Victorian College of Pharmacy and is expected to enter preclinical trials in September.

This novel MicroArray Patch (NanoMAP) is the initial product of a development programme for the painless delivery of nanostructured large-molecule drugs, hormones and vaccines across the stratum corneum or outer layer of the skin using topologically undulating patches.

The passive (diffusion) patches are manufactured by Victorian company MiniFAB with materials "all approved, registered and proven for use in human applications", NanoVic said.

Delivery efficiency is being evaluated for nanoparticulate materials (quantum dots) as well as nanostructured proteins and peptides, such as insulin and ovalbumin, formulated by Eiffel Technology.

Proof-of-concept tests with NanoMAP in rodents have demonstrated delivery of insulin nanoparticles with reduced glucose levels and produced "exciting results" with immune responses to pure antigen, NanoVic reported.

Interstitial NS is working with Melbourne-based company Catapult on a portable prototype applicator/dose controller for use with the patches.

It is looking at delivery-on-demand patches as a further step in the development programme.

Also in the pipeline at Interstitial, which has a portfolio of patents, licences and assets valued at more than US$3m (€2.2m), is a process using Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) technology developed by Monash University for the production and pulmonary delivery of nanoparticulate drugs via a portable personal inhaler.

Pre-clinical trials with the prototype pump designed by Melbourne-based Charlwood Design are expected to start in January 2008.

Potential applications for the technology, which allows precise particle-size control of the target drug, include the delivery of insulin, erythropoietin or gene therapy for cystic fibrosis, NanoVic said.

The other two projects under development at Interstitial NS are In-Cellution technology that uses mammalian cells and a proprietary homologous recombination vector to create improved protein reagents for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes; and liquid crystal nanotechnology for delivering chemicals and reagents across membranes.

With a portfolio of patents, licences and assets valued at more than US$5 million, Quintain NS focuses on nanoparticulate imaging and diagnostic technologies such as rapid, cost-effective detection methods for meningococcal disease and sheep lice.

These latter employ technology developed with RMIT University that exploits the surface Plasmon resonance effects of gold nanoparticulate surfaces.

The resulting diagnostic platform avoids lengthy bacterial culturing and sample preparation to provide a fast, colour-based read-out, NanoVic claims.

Quintain's Bead NanoArray biochip platform is the product of NanoVic's Chemical NanoArrays project, which involved both Swinburne and Monash Universities.

NanoArray systems offer a fast, convenient and accurate means of detecting specific chemical or biological entities, particularly related to infectious or toxic molecules such as protein markers, NanoVic explained.

The arrays under development at Quintain are created through chemical immobilisation of a specific library of compounds in the form of diagnostic nanobeads onto microstructured pillars.

This unique production technique allows for a high signal:noise ratio, with no requirement for sample preparation and high sample throughput, resulting in a low-cost diagnostic system, NanoVic said.

The Bead NanoArrays feature 100-40,000 spots/array of new chemical ligands and a highly engineered surface.

Lead applications include salmonella detection in food samples and bovine mastitis diagnosis in dairy herds.

Pharmaceutical applications could include drug discovery, DNA analysis and diagnostics.

Quintain NS is also developing novel nanoengineered contrast reagents for the early in vivo detection of disease states such as cardiovascular conditions, neurological disorders and cancer; and nanoparticulate enzyme biosensor probes for the rapid detection of sulfites in foods, beverages and wine.

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