In 2004 Charles Picardi attended a biomedical conference arranged by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) in Philadelphia. As the chief technology officer for NanoBlox, Picardi and his colleagues exhibited their nanodiamond technology as a startup company. As a result NanoBlox started working with BFTP/SEP. "It was a perfect match," says Picardi.
Established in 1982, BFTP/SEP works as a regional nonprofit in a statewide network developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Specifically BFTP/SEP provides capital and expertise to help companies get started or maintain their momentum. "We have always had a large presence in the life science arena, but we're not exclusive to life sciences," says Anthony Green, vice president, technology commercialization group: life sciences at BFTP/SEP. "We also invest in information technology and physical sciences." For example, alumni companies in which BFTP/SEP has invested include Centocor, Cephalon, Morphotech, and Viropharma. Currently, BFTP/SEP's active portfolio includes more than 125 companies such as Infrascan, Immunicon, Immunotope, and Topaz.
In describing BFTP's regional technology initiatives, Green says, "We come up with new and novel ways to break down barriers to commercialization and to instill a new mindset among universities about sharing intellectual property." The Nanotechnology Institute (NTI), which Green directs, serves as one example of BFTP's ongoing programs. It's state-funded, having received $19 million since 2000. So far, NTI has focused on funding applied and translational research, but Green says, "We are now increasing the funds to commercialization activities." Some companies, including NanoBlox, owe much of their success to the NTI.
NanoBlox manufactures nanodiamond materials that are applied in a range of fields, including pharmaceuticals. Typically, nanodiamond comes out of processing covered with a mixture of organic groups such as methyl or carboxyl groups. "This limits the material's applications," says Picardi. "Working with NTI and Yury Gogotsi at the Edmund D. Bossone Research Enterprise Center at Drexel University, we discovered a method that purifies the nanodiamond material through air oxidation. This gives us a clean slate." Then Picardi and his colleagues apply the desired chemistry, creating a 5-nanometer, solid drug-delivery platform. They've even built proteins on the product's surface.
By working with BFTP/SEP, NanoBlox honed its business plan to secure additional investment. Eventually, it wants to license its nanodiamond products to a pharmaceutical company.
BFTP/SEP offers multiple ways to work with companies. The organization usually carries a company for only a few years, and it offers investments up to a total of $750,000. BFTP/SEP also coinvests in companies with other regional venture funds or angel investors. The help, though, goes far beyond funding. Green says BFTP/SEP has volunteer advisors on all its committees, which work with companies on their technology and business plans, and it provides significant mentoring services, too.
Green now administers a new state-funded initiative about patent donation in conjunction with Phoenix IP Ventures, because "there's lots of IP sitting in file cabinets not going anywhere," he says. "We're trying to get companies to donate those patents to us, and we'll find a home for them." That project is just rolling out, but he expects it to be another approach that BFTP/SEP brings to the commercialization of life science in the Greater Philadelphia region.
In addition, Green administers a new state-funded initiative in patent donation in conjunction with Phoenix IP Ventures. "There's lots of IP sitting in file cabinets, not going anywhere," he says. "We're trying to get companies to donate those patents to us, and we'll find a home for them." That project is just rolling out, but he expects it to be another approach that BFTP/SEP brings to the commercialization of life science in the greater Philadelphia region.