The State of Georgia says its intent on becoming the crossroads of global health, and the bioscience industry plays an integral part.
In our continuing series, BIO on My Mind, Susan Mittleman looks at one pharmaceutical development company in Atlanta that could have a big impact on the way some medicines are delivered in the future.
Matthew Porter has been giving himself insulin shots every day for the past eight years —as much as three to five times a day.
“I’m going to take four units of insulin, take the needle pinch a small roll of fat in my tummy, and inject it there.”
Like millions of Americans, Porter relies on needle to regulate his diabetes. Given a choice, he’d gladly dispose of them for good.
“How would you feel if there was a patch that would do the same thing every day that you’re doing with needles.? That would be terrific. That would be like wearing a new pancreas!”
Well, that technology is not yet on the market, but soon could be.
Altea Therapuetics, a small biotech company here in Atlanta, has spent ten years developing new ways of delivering drugs that up to now, could only be done through injections or oral cocktails.
“The core technology we have is one that permits any drug to be delivered through the skin, from a small, conventional, medicated skin patch.”
Eric Tomlinson is president and CEO.
“And those patches pulse drug into the skin and into the blood, in a predetermined fashion.”
Unlike nicotine patches or birth control patches, which are among the very few drugs on the market able to dissolve directly through the skin into the bloodstream, large molecule drugs like insulin, cannot enter the blood this way. So far.
(Tomlinson) “This is a hand held device, it’s a little stubbier an iphone . It contains a couple of AA batteries that provide an electrical pulse that is transmitted to the skin’s surface, through the magic of the device.”
At the same time, the PassPort, as it’s called, applies a small medicated patch on to the skin. Potentially, this technology could deliver drugs not just for diabetes, but for pain, osteoporosis, even vaccinations. Dr. Vickey Spratlan has been overseeing Altea’s clinical trials with insulin, on type 1 and type 2 diabetic patients.
“This would actually take away needles, but it would also take away fluctuations that people who have to give themselves injections have. Plus they don’t have all the needles our there people are having to discard.”
Phase one trials have proven successful so far. But there’s still a number of obstacles to overcome before getting this product to market, which can be another five years down the line. The most obvious, is getting FDA approval, which Spratlan says is taking even longer because the technology is so new.
“You’re actually having to do a bunch of different things in these trials that you wouldn’t have to do with an oral medication. Here you’ve got to work on your applicator, you’ve got to work on your patch and you’ve got to work on the process of getting it across.”
Another big challenge is backing. Altea is funded by venture capitalists, and, says Co-Founder Alan Smith, is always looking for long-term financing.
“Financing for the company, for studies, development, equipment, so we can expand and hire more people,” And, “And the second challenge is finding the right people, that are willing to move to Atlanta.”
But Smith is optimistic. Founded by Georgia tech engineers, the company’s planted strong roots in Atlanta’s close-knit community. Moreso, he says, they’re carving a niche in the biomedical market.
“Atlanta is sort of a mix of a few pharmaceuticals companies, a higher number of small medical device companies, and we’re kind of bridging both. So I think we’re a good example of how the industry is moving in the Atlanta area.”
And it’s that kind of innovation Altea hopes will help catalyze other companies to set up shop here.