Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Smart Cells, Inc. Secures Additional NIH Funding

Back in June, I published an interview I did with the President and CEO of SmartCells, Inc., Todd Zion.

In what is undoubtedly a vote of confidence in their basic concept, last week, SmartCells announced that the company had been awarded $283,515 grant for Phase I funding as part of the NIH/NIDDK's "Fast-Track" Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR is a unique funding source (separate from the NIH's intra and extramural research programs) awarded to companies in the private sector whose work the National Institutes of Health deems very promising with a good chance of being commercialized. SmartCells' grant was awarded to support stability testing of the company's glucose-regulated insulin formulations. After successful completion of the Phase I work, $2,445,628 in Phase II funding will be available for continued manufacturing development.

This is a positive sign for SmartCells, which up until now has had little difficulty in securing government and venture capital for its continued research. However, private venture capital is not as free-flowing as it was a few years ago, in part because credit markets are tighter. As The New York Times reported today, "The liquidity in the credit markets was abysmal," said William H. Gross, chief investment officer of the bond management firm Pacific Investment Management Company, known as Pimco. "On Friday, afternoon, the brokers were unwilling to make markets in almost anything that didn't have a Treasury or agency sticker attached to it. That's pretty bad."

What the SBIR grant does is ensures that SmartCells will have a source of funding even if venture capitalists prove more difficult to lure in the immediate future. As I noted previously, SmartCells represents the rational future of insulin replacement therapy, one that is not burdened with endless calculations, hypoglycemia, and one that eliminates the kind of testing many now require to obtain reasonable "control". SmartCells' basic concept is to encapsulate human insulin nanoparticles in a polymer that would theoretically "detect" a diabetic's glucose levels automatically, and therefore release only the appropriate amounts of insulin at precisely the right time to keep blood sugar levels steady. The big deal is that it would completely eliminate hypoglycemia, and also significantly reduce the burden of blood testing.

So far, preclinical testing has passed several major hurdles, and human trials are likely to be pursued in the future. When I spoke with Todd Zion, he suggest that human trials could be ready as soon 2009 or 2010. With another source of funding secured, it looks like SmartInsulin is one step closer to becoming reality.

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