Venture capitalists bet big on nanotechnology

Venture capitalists are always looking for the next big thing to invest in—and hopefully make loads of cash from. Several investors think they have found just the ticket. These VCs are homing in on companies using nanotechnology to make therapies that destroy cancerous tumors but bypass healthy cells. By encasing drugs in nanoparticles that target only diseased cells, many of the unpleasant side-effects the result from cancer treatment can be avoided.

The first nanoparticle was approved in 1995. Doxil used miniscule fat bubbles (called liposomes) to encapsulate the chemotherapy doxorubicin. Most of the time the bubbles circulated in the blood without a problem, slowly releasing the doxorubicin, but about 10 percent of the bubbles burst, compromising healthy tissue.

Now several companies are looking beyond liposomes to find other forms of nanotechnology that could revolutionize the way cancer is treated:

  • BIND Biosciences has a pre-clinical nanoparticle that enters the tumor and releases its drug. The company expects to have a drug for either cancer or cardiovascular disease in the clinic by 2009, and won $2.5 million in VC back in January to support its work. Investors included Polaris Ventures and Flagship Ventures.
  • Tempo Pharmaceuticals has a drug in the works that penetrates tumors and releases two drugs--one to collapse the tumor vasculature and another that gradually releases chemo. Tempo landed $12.1 million in VC in May (also from Polaris), which should help it push a drug into the clinic.
  • Avidimer Therapeutics’ nanoparticle (called a dendrimer) is shaped like a tree, with the chemo drug methotrexate attached to its branches. Once the dendrimer gets lodged inside the tumor, the tumor is unable to expel the lethal methotrexate. With help from Flagship Ventures and North Coast Technology Investors, Avidimer closed its first-round of funding in August.
  • Intradigm is pairing nanotechnology with the hot field of RNAi to achieve effective delivery siRNA molecules (one of the two types of RNA); the company gained a hefty $16 million in VC for its work. Alta Partners and Frazier Healthcare Ventures led the round.

For more on VC’s interest in nanotechnology
- read this Wall Street Journal article