T&I Tampa Bay Runner-up
by Dave Szymanski | Tampa Bay Editor
Using the USF incubator, Tampa-based TransGenex Nanobiotech is developing drugs for the treatment of cancers and chronic lung diseases.
Michael Crichton, author of "Jurassic Park," wrote a novel, "Prey," in 2002 about nanotechnology, the shrinking of technology to minute particles which can move and diffuse more quickly to reach cells and accomplish new medical breakthroughs.
In the novel, the nano particles, micro robots, escape from a lab and reproduce. Although fiction, Gitimoy Kar gives a nod to Crichton.
"These authors have a way of predicting the future," Kar says.
Critchton doesn't know Kar, but the world is slowly getting to know Kar's company, TransGenex Nanobiotech Inc., a Tampa-based biotechnology company founded in 2002.
TransGenex is using nanotechnology to develop drugs for the treatment of cancers and chronic lung diseases.
Its most recent product is an HIV test kit it hopes to get to market in 2008. Beyond that, it is working on drugs to cure ovarian and lung cancer and chronic lung ailments and has lined up testing schedules so it can pursue federal approval.
Subhra Mohapatra, a faculty member at the University of South Florida, founded the company in the USF business incubator by licensing several patents. The patents were for drugs that used organic nano particles to deliver genes to specific targets. Mohapatra incorporated the company in 2004. Kar then joined the company and has been running its daily operations.
TransGenex works closely with the USF medical school to contract out some of the research work. For example, in developing new drugs, it's necessary to test them on mice and larger animals before getting federal approval to test them on people. USF helps with that testing.
So far, the startup company has not generated a profit. But it has generated sales for nano particle re-agents, organic nano particles combined with DNA and targeted for a specific disease.
Last month, it hired a CEO, John Lucas, 75, a former technology executive and Harvard MBA who was retired in Sarasota. Lucas has experience in biotech and worked with six startup companies. Lucas' most recently served as chairman and CEO of EpiCept Corp., a company developing proprietary prescription topical pain control products based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and Munich.
TransGenex believes it has an edge over other companies because of the uniqueness of its products. For example, with the HIV test kit, the hospital or clinic only needs a drop of blood. It also produces results more quickly than other test kits.
For the cancer-fighting products, the company strategy works on genes. The human body has 30,000 to 35,000 genes. If there's an imbalance, a person may get a disease. TransGenex tries to identify the genes that are responsible. By attaching the antibody to the nano particles, they will only seek out the genes needed to be controlled. By controlling those, the body is brought into balance, curing the disease.
Since its funds are limited, TransGenex is looking to partner with large pharmaceutical firms such as Merck or Pfizer, to produce and distribute the pills.
"Seventy percent of new drugs come from startups because large companies can't develop everything," Kar, 64, says. "Companies like us can't afford millions for production and development. But we can demonstrate them, get them ready for FDA approval."
The company is also looking for investors and hopes that Lucas, with his industry contacts, can help attract them. It sees itself as a research-and-development company now, with ambitions to possibly manufacture cancer drugs in the future.
Company: TransGenex Nanobiotech Inc.
Key: Be diligent in developing, testing and getting to market nanoparticle platform technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases.