NanoPacific Holdings, a 2007 spinout of the University of California, Los Angeles, said last week that it has obtained an exclusive, worldwide license to use the school’s nanoemulsion and polypeptide technologies for a broad range of applications including targeted therapeutics and diagnostic-imaging agents.
The license, which follows an earlier licensing deal between the partners for nanoparticle technology developed by different UCLA researchers, is a product of a good working relationship between the company and the school that will likely continue with sponsored research agreements to further develop NanoPacific’s technology platform, according to a company official.
Under the terms of the latest agreement, NanoPacific has obtained an exclusive, worldwide license to key intellectual property covering nanoemulsions, including so-called double nanoemulsions, developed in the laboratory of Thomas Mason, an associate professor of chemistry and physics at UCLA; and methods for synthesizing polypeptides invented by Timothy Deming, a professor of bioengineering at UCLA.
Nanoemulsions describe nanoscale oil droplets dispersed in water that offer tunable mechanical and optical properties useful for industrial materials at reduced costs. Double nanoemulsions are nanoscale double droplets – such as water droplets contained within oil droplets and dispersed in an aqueous solution – that can be used for applications such as dual-cargo pharmaceutical delivery.
According to Mason’s lab, larger double emulsions have been known for many years, but achieving stable sub-100-nanometer diameters for both the inner and outer droplets is an important breakthrough that has been made possible through “designer” co-polypeptide stabilizer molecules such as those developed in Deming’s lab, and also licensed by NanoPacific.
These block co-polypeptides are synthetic polymers that are made up of amino acids and can be produced in the same way as conventional plastics. The polypeptides can be tailored to assemble into nanoscale structures and functionalized to interact with biological systems. Examples include polypeptide vesicles that form protein-like nanoshells for drug delivery, and hydrogels that can be used for delivery purposes or as scaffolds in therapeutic and cosmetic applications.
Together, the technologies complement and “significantly expand” porous nanoparticle technology that serves as the basis for NanoPacific’s technology platform for storing and selectively releasing molecules via nanoscale gates, the company said.
“We’ve now done a series of three licenses with UCLA,” NanoPacific chairman and co-CEO Joseph Boystak told BTW this week. “The original license dealt with a mesoporous silica-based nanoparticles. These are silica-based structures, delivery devices with some very sophisticated features that allow very precise delivery of their cargo.”
Boystak added that the newer licenses for the nanoemulsions and polypeptides “really enable us to develop a wide variety of hard, soft, and hybrid structures for very precise and controlled delivery in a number of applications.”
“These are very broad and encompassing licenses … and for most cases they are for every application” that the company is exploring.
Financial details of the various licensing agreements have not been disclosed, although Boystak said that they involve a series of milestone payments and ongoing royalties following the first commercial sale of a product. “These are very broad and encompassing licenses,” he said. “They’re exclusive worldwide, and for most cases they are for every application” that the company is exploring, he added.
NanoPacific will explore various applications for its technology platform using somewhat of a laddered approach by first focusing on near-term, non-biomedical opportunities such as cosmetics and topical therapeutics that it anticipates it can “move through the FDA in a crisper timeframe,” Boystak said.
Medium-range applications include diagnostics using an imaging-based strategy “whereby we can deliver certain contrast agents with our nano-delivery devices in a much more targeted way,” Boystak said; and therapeutics, such as more advanced topical applications, “which could take us into dermatology, and then move into acute indications with the goal of ultimately building into the chronic indications,” he added. Lastly, the company is in the very preliminary stages of looking at food and agriculture applications.
The original silica-based nanoparticle technology was developed by a group of UCLA scientists that include Fraser Stoddart, Andre Nel, Jeffrey Zinc, and Fuyu Tamano. NanoPacific finalized a licensing deal for this IP earlier this year.
Soon thereafter, UCLA’s Office of Intellectual Property came across invention disclosures from Mason and Deming covering the nanoemulsions and polypeptides, and felt that the technologies fit nicely into NanoPacific’s business plan, Earl Weinstein, assistant director of the UCLA OIP, told BTW.
“Because the university is so big, we sometimes have more of a bird’s eye view of what’s going on, and can suggest things to companies that may be complementary,” Weinstein said. “It happens pretty frequently, but I think this is a good example of where it really made sense.”
Boystak said that NanoPacific has spent “a lot of time with the tech-transfer people at UCLA to articulate our strategy and mission to give them some real context that this is not just an isolated, one-off tech transfer for the original silica structure, but that we want to build a platform of various nano-delivery devices.”
Boystak added that the company has a “very good working relationship” with the UCLA team, which was “gracious enough to identify some of the work being done by Professors Mason and Deming. When we sat down with them and explored it more critically, we decided it was an ideal fit for us.”
UCLA’s Weinstein stressed that the OIP is cautious about “pipelining” technologies to one company. “We really make a strong effort to provide equal access to technologies,” he said. “We put all of our invention disclosures on our website so everyone can see them. But we look for the best potential fit, and this seemed like a good fit.”
Mason and Deming are frequent scientific collaborators, but their only connection to the scientists behind the originally licensed inventions is that they all are affiliated with the California NanoSystems Institute, a joint enterprise between UCLA and UC-Santa Barbara that is funded by the state of California and located on the UCLA campus.
This institute, according to Boystak, is an example of the kind of multi-disciplinary program that can feed a company’s technology pipeline.
“We’re very excited about with our working relationship with UCLA in that CNSI is a collaborative institute that draws on faculty from a lot of different disciplines. They’re really trying to inspire and create a lot of collaboration among the faculty.”
As such, he said, NanoPacific will continue to sponsor research in some or all of the labs from which it has licensed technology to this point. “The collaborative nature of what’s going on at CNSI is world-class, with some very cutting edge work being done,” Boystak said. “Our focus here of controlled delivery fits very neatly into a lot of research initiatives being done in a lot of the labs. We intend to be very active in the sponsorship of that activity.”
Boystak added that NanoPacific will eventually consider partnerships with other research universities and academic institutions, and has fielded requests from several such undisclosed institutions about possible partnerships. “We consider UCLA to be our core relationship in this regard,” he said. “But as appropriate, we will supplement and expand our footprint with other premier academic research centers.”