Editor’s note: Allan Maurer’s BIO-Watch column appears each Friday. Oriel Therapeutics, a UNC-Chapel Hill spin-out company formed four months ago, plans to seek about $5 million in venture backing following its first board meeting at the end of March.

Oriel, which is developing an inhaler that dispenses medicine in a dry powder instead of a liquid spray, has raised $1 million in seed money.

The company recently recruited Paul Atkins, former GlaxoSmithKline director of respiratory delivery systems, as chief executive officer. Atkins tells Local Tech Wire that dry powder inhalers have a “multi-billion dollar global market.”

Created by Anthony Hickey, a professor at UNC’s Pharmacy School, and Tim Crowder, a recent UNC biomedical engineering doctoral graduate, the Oriel inhaler advances the art of dry powder inhalers, Hickey says.

Hickey says the device is based on over ten years of research into the basic science of how dry powder disperses. The “smart inhaler,” Oriel is developing is a simple system that can deliver almost anything in uniform, reproducible doses, Hickey says.

Environmentally friendly advantage

It also has an environmental advantage over most inhalers currently on the market, Hickey says.

Liquid and some other dry powder aerosol inhalers propel drug doses with chlorofluorocarbon gasses (CFCs)- which are implicated in global warming and are already regulated to some extent, with further restrictions in the works. The electronically controlled Oriel device uses no CFCs.

Hickey says Oriel’s device could deliver small quantities of potent compounds to the lungs. While it will be developed and tested on a treatment for a single disease initially, potentially it could deliver drugs to treat cancer, diabetes and heart disease, he says. Its efficient delivery of drugs to the lungs could lower expenses by reducing the quantity needed.

The company hopes to test the inhaler and a drug in the clinic in two years and get to market in about five.

Atkins says the company will seek partners among large pharmaceutical companies to develop the device. He says GSK, 3M, Astra Zeneca, and Schering-Plough Corp. are among the large companies with an interest in inhaled delivery systems.

GSK’s Advair inhaler, which dispenses two drugs, helped boost GSK’s pretax profit 16 percent in 2001, according to documents the company filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Inhale Therapeutics, San Carlos, Calif., and Irish drug giant Elan are potential competitors in the dry inhaler market.