Business in Vancouver

Canadian tech company targets nanomedicine niche

Precision NanoSystems develops a faster, cheaper way to produce nanoparticles

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 August, 2016, 8:35am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 August, 2016, 10:49am

Precision NanoSystems Inc. has increased its revenue almost 800 per cent since it was founded six years ago by carving out a niche in the biotechnology industry.

Instead of making its own drugs, the small Vancouver-based tech company is focused on a faster way to create nanoparticles, which improve the precision of delivering medicine into the human body.

Tim Leaver, Precision’s head of product development, said the company decided early in its evolution that it didn’t want to make its own drugs because there was more opportunity in participating with the industry as a whole, instead of battling for market share in what is an extremely competitive industry.

“We wanted to make our technology accessible to others.”

While other biotech firms were competing to make the next great nanomedicine, Precision developed a platform to help researchers create nanoparticles faster and easier.

Leaver said Precision is agnostic when it comes to what nanomedicines are created with its product. The company’s goal, he said, is to help advance the industry.

He claimed that no other company is dedicated to a platform for making therapeutic nanoparticles.

“We’re still unique in that sense.”

The key to its success, then, was entering a niche with little competition and a lot of potential customers.

According to Leaver, most biotech firms develop their own methods for making nanoparticles. This process is often designed to serve a company’s product. By concentrating on early stages of the supply chain, Precision focused on improving the nanoparticle creation process.

Its NanoAssemblr reduced the cost and increased the speed of creating nanoparticles, two major hindrances to the field’s development of nanoparticles for research.

Precision’s NanoAssemblr can create a few millilitres of nanoparticle in five minutes, a process that would take a skilled PhD scientist four hours using traditional methods.

Because of its scalability and usability, the NanoAssemblr could be an industry game-changer. Representatives from both Precision and Genome BC said the system was so easy to use that they could teach anyone to make nanoparticles with it.

“We’re a completely automated system with controls over all the different parameters, so you also have reproducibility,” said Leaver. “You could walk up to our instrument right now and if I gave you the material you could make particles just as good as any PhD scientist because the system is completely controlled.”

The system frees up scientists to do research. The NanoAssemblr can also be scaled for smaller or larger production needs.

Nanomedicines are increasingly receiving credit for being one of the emerging classes of therapeutics globally.

The most common use of nanoparticles is to improve precision when delivering medicines. Some medicines like chemotherapy drugs are harmful to the human body. To prevent damage, nanoparticles can deliver them directly to where they’re needed in a patient.

Leaver said nanoparticles are also being used to edit genes and turn on genes that prevent disease and turn off genes that cause disease.

Precision NanoSystems has attracted international investors from California and received a C$600,000 (US$464,164) grant from Genome BC last year through a program that provides funding to companies with technology ready for industrial development.

Gabe Kalmer, Genome BC’s vice-president of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, said the NanoAssemblr could be a paradigm-shifting invention for the biotech and nanomedicine industries.

“The whole idea behind the program [that provided Precision with funding] was to identify things that had the potential to be disruptive,” said Kalmar. “The reason they were able to attract that very smart money from California was because they see it as paradigm shifting.”

Kalmer added that making nanotechnology tools more available to scientists and research will increase drug availability for everyone.

Because the NanoAssemblr allows for increased nanoparticle production on industrial and smaller scales, Kalmer said it increases access to medicine and promotes innovation.

He said he saw no downsides to the technology.

Kalmer also applauded Precision’s business model. 

“[BC is] extremely good at doing science. We’re extremely good at coming up with things. But we’re not necessarily always very good at putting a company around it and figuring out how to make money on it. This group has done that very effectively.”