VOL. 2, NO. 4, 5
APRIL, MAY 2004
Copyright © 2004 Red Herring, Inc. / IC Report. All rights reserved.
The province of Quebec, considered one of the world
centers for biotech-related star tups and venture capital,
may be losing its edge. Over the past 10 years, Quebec's
provincial government emphasized biotech as a strategi-
cally impor tant industr y that could boost the region's
economic competitiveness. It created a number of ven-
ture funds and a variety of tax incentives to pump up the
industr y. But now, with a new government at the helm,
many of the programs are being dismantled, leaving the
future of this burgeoning biotech center up in the air.
Just this month came news that Innovatech, a govern-
ment-backed venture fund that invested heavily in
regional biotech companies, was being put up for sale to
private investors. The fund, which invested about $342
million in 130 to 150 companies, now has a market value
of about $160 million. The Quebec government says it
wants to attract investors who will not only buy the
fund's assets but also continue to invest in Quebec.
Providence, Rhode Island
he challenge for biotech researchers isn't only to
create the compound they're after. Once they've got
a beaker full of the material in solution, they must sepa-
rate that material and only that material from the rest
of the goop. This purification is one of the most difficult
and costly steps in the production process.
EMembrane is developing a nanoengineered "brush"
to make the purification process faster and less expensive.
The company uses electron beams to attach extremely
small polymer fibers, ranging from 10 nanometers to 300
microns in length, to a polymer membrane. William Lee,
cofounder, president and CEO of EMembrane, claims
the company has been able to squeeze more than 10 tril-
lion of these filaments onto a square centimeter of the
polymer substrate. The br ushes can be custom-config-
ured to grab onto a single type of molecule or com-
pound, making them ideal for isolating specific materials,
Current biotech production methods rely on a slow-
moving separation technique known as chromatography,
which can often take several days. As much as 50 percent
to 90 percent of a production cycle's cost may be spent
filtering a solution through a series of membranes to
remove unneeded molecules and isolate the desired mate-
rial. This method uses standard, of f-the-shelf filtering
membranes to isolate compounds primarily by size.
Adding nanotube br ushes to a membrane can accel-
erate the filtering process by a factor of 10 and decrease
production costs significantly, Lee says. What's more, the
method is flexible because the nanotubes can be custom-
designed to capture any type of molecule, protein or bac-
teria. The improvement in speed of purification depends
on the material being sought.
Lee says the key to EMembrane's technology is the
electron-beam grafting technique that binds the brushes
to the substrate. Lee studied the technique while com-
pleting his Ph.D. at the University of Tokyo. It has been
used for years in other industrial applications but has not
seen much use in the biotech space. Lee has 13 patents
pending on the process and says that "there's not really
EMembrane was founded in late 2000 with an angel
investment of $250,000. The company later received an
additional $100,000 from the Slater Center, a tech-
nology incubator. EMembrane is currently seeking $2
million to $6 million in its first round of venture funding
in order to increase its manufacturing capabilities.
Lee is initially targeting the biotech market and says
he expects to sign his company's first customer within six
months. He claims EMembrane will be able to deliver a
completed product to customers within a year after
closing a deal.
EMembrane is sure to pique the interest of venture
capitalists. Not only does it have a potentially revolu-
tionar y technology, says one obser ver, it also has an
existing revenue stream it can lean on while developing
its biotech application: Japanese clothing companies are
lining their products with EMembrane's microscopic
polymer br ushes, which have proved to be par ticularly
effective at absorbing sweat and body odor.
Piscataway, New Jersey
problem with cutting-edge medicine is that some-
times the cure can lead to new maladies even as it's
fixing old ones. Case in point: the arterial stent.
These tiny metal-mesh tubes play a critical role in
modern cardiac care. They're permanently installed
inside a patient's weak or clogged ar ter y to prop the
vessel open and permit the free flow of blood. The draw-
back is that installation can temporarily traumatize the
ar ter y, causing scar tissue to build up around the stent
and further inhibit circulation.
One technique used to limit scarring is to coat the
stent with a polymer. But, again, this advance may cause
new problems, says Karen Giroux, president and CEO of
Polymerix, a star tup that's developing a new type of
polymer for use in medical applications.
Existing polymers used to coat stents are meant to be
permanent. But Giroux says that after years inside a person's
body they may begin to flake off, sending potentially dan-
IC RATING (scale 110)
IC RATING (scale 110)