Arthur Benvenuto, chief executive officer at Micell Technologies, smiled as he reviewed the history of the firm.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful that at the end of the day this technology, which certainly has the potential to make a significant impact on people’s lives, is where the technology was meant to play a role,” Benvenuto told WRAL Local Tech Wire. “That would be wonderfully rewarding for everyone.”
Micell has closed on $7 million in what Benvenuto called a “preferred round” of financing. The funds will be used to advance Micell’s development of its coating technology involving so-called super critical fluids for use in drug-eluting stents and other medical devices.
Benvenuto, a longtime executive in the life science field, sees a large opportunity for Micell.
“You have a $6 billion market that has people looking for different solutions,” he said.
For example, Micell’s coatings could overcome some problems related to stents such as thrombosis, or clotting.
“What’s unique about this system is its potential for drug delivery and use in medical devices,” Benvenuto said. “The first group of products we are bringing down would include stents. This also could be used for orthopedic devices or for drug delivery in general. For example, you could coat rods that could then be placed under the skin.”
The focus on stents and medical devices is the third for the heavily patented technology that is at the core of Micell’s history. Joseph Simone, a chemistry and chemical engineering professor at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina founded Micell, which dates back to the 1990s, launched the firm with a CO2 process seen as an alternative to dry cleaning. The result was the “Hangers” chain that launched in 1999.
Jim McClain, one of Micell’s co-founders along with DeSimone, is the firm’s chief technology officer. DeSimone remains a shareholder in Micell but is not involved in management, according to Benvenuto.
Micell raised more than $50 million over several years and then moved into semiconductors.
The switch to medical device coatings occurred in 2004 after a stent manufacturer approached Micell with the idea of using its process to not coat but to clean stents, Benvenuto recalled. The medical device field was something Benvenuto also already knew a great deal about, having run a device company before.
The suggestion led to discussion about using the technology in a completely different way – to deliver drugs.
“That led to a terrific effort on the part of our scientific team to develop a unique drug delivery system,” Benvenuto said.
Micell has raised some $15 million since switching its focus to biomedical devices. The firm operates largely as a virtual company with only six full-time employees.
Working in conjunction with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is run by the U.S. Department of Technology, Micell is developing what it calls “supercritical fluids,” or SCF, for use in coatings. The PNNL defines a supercritical fluid as "any substance above its critical temperature and critical pressure. In the supercritical area there is only one state-of-the-fluid and it possesses both gas- and liquid-like properties."
Micell’s description of the supercritical fluid coating process points out how it could be used in different ways:
“This unique technology has the potential to provide improvements to conventional solvent based systems by maintaining control of drug morphology, targeting drug placement within the coating and customizing elution rates of single or multiple drugs. In addition, the SCF method avoids solvents and high temperatures so it can be used with new therapeutic classes, such as proteins or genes, in addition to existing therapeutic agents.”
The process enables the applications of several layers of coatings, such as drugs, to devices, Benvenuto added.
Invemed Catalyst Fund, an investor in Micell dating back to the CO2 cleaning days, and the GE Pension Plan participated in the new funding. Archibald Cox, a board member, also participated, Benvenuto said.
The money will be used to help Micell move toward animal studies involving its technology.
“We’re moving ahead with some additional laboratory data as well as getting some preliminary animal data before we move into larger-scale preclinical animal studies,” Benvenuto said.
Encouraged by data compiled this far, Benvenuto said receiving Food and Drug Administration approval for use of the technology is still several years away.
“Clearly this is very exciting,” he said of data that had been published in scientific journals. “This is very promising.”
There also has been another major benefit to research and development in different fields over the years, Benvenuto added. Micell has built quite an intellectual property portfolio that now includes some 100 patents.