Thayumanavan Awarded $40,000 to Develop Nano-Polymer for Drug Delivery

Sankaran Thayumanavan
Sankaran Thayumanavan

The Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC) in late December announced Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund grants of $40,000 each to eight faculty researchers across the UMass system who are developing promising technologies, including Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, chemistry, for a project titled “Versatile nano-polymer platform for therapeutic delivery.”

As he explains, Thayumanavan and colleagues have developed a polymer nanoparticle with the ideal combination of characteristics useful for targeted delivery of drug molecules to specific organs, tissues or cell types. “Most of the time people in this field discover a molecular scaffold and outfit it from there for an application. But in our group, we know quite a bit about how to develop molecules that will self-assemble into nano-scale structures. We used this know-how to custom design a platform that has the ideal combination of characteristics that you’d want in a drug delivery vehicle.”

For this project, the chemists identified eight variables to address and control in the delivery system. “We satisfied all eight, with tunability,” Thayumanavan says. “If you want to have size tunability, because different disease models require different sizes, our system has the ability to match pore sizes from less than 10 up to 300 nanometers. With this and the other tunable variables, our new platform approach should be able to satisfy a great many different disease models.”

The research has led to a new start-up company called Cyta Therapeutics. With Thayumanvan as scientific co-founder, the company has the option to license this technology from the campus. They call their invention “X-act nanogels,” a play on X as a placeholder.

“You supply the unknown X needed for your clinical application, and the delivery system will fit it. We can make whatever variations one would want,” Thayumanvan says. “We can design it to act on any cell type or organ type. Our system can fill in that blank.” They will use the MTTC grant to do more testing in in vivo models and to test product safety.

The total $320,000 MTTC grants from UMass’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures (OTCV) follow earlier awards to the same researchers that helped launch their original projects and inventions with commercial potential. In this second round, inventors are expected to develop market data and a commercialization plan over the next six months.

UMass President Martin Meehan said, “The discovery and innovation underway at all five UMass campuses advances education and science while helping to fuel our economy. These awards develop new technologies that are of strategic importance to the Commonwealth and help nurture innovation and entrepreneurism throughout the state. We believe these are exactly the kinds of inventions that will help create new startup companies, industries and jobs of the future.”

Katie Stebbins, assistant secretary of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in the state Department of Housing and Economic Development and chair of the MTTC’s advisory board, added, “These awards are designed to support the commercial development of some of the exciting new inventions coming out of UMass labs and fueling our innovation economy. We look forward to seeing these technologies become the foundation of new start-up companies throughout the Commonwealth.”

MTTC is a state organization that assists the transfer of technology from the state’s research institutions to private industry. It is housed within OTCV.