WisBusiness: Nanotech product helps deliver anti-cancer drugs

By Eric Chen

For WIsBusiness.com

Solubility, safety and synergy: Those words combine to help form the name of 3S Therapeutics, an emerging Wisconsin company with a new nanotechnology product that promises to deliver cancer-fighting drugs in novel combinations.

The team behind 3S Therapeutics, a Madison-based company with ties to UW-Madison, is waging war against cancer with a nanotechnology product that addresses stability, safety and efficacy in drug delivery.

“Our company’s vision is to bring to market safer drugs to patients in need of cancer therapy,” said Abdulla Saad, a member of the 3S Therapeutics team and the principal author of its entry in the 2011 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

The company has produced a nanotechnology drug delivery system using polymeric micelles, a nanoscale capsule used to efficiently transport drugs to combat tumors.

Saad describes this unique drug delivery system as “three-in-one,” where up to three cancer drugs can be transported in one drug capsule.

“None of our competitors have two or three drugs packed in one polymeric micelle. This is what differentiates us,” Saad said.

The World Health Organization characterizes cancer as a leading cause of death, with 13 percent of deaths worldwide being cancer-related in the year 2008.

Patent applications for the 3S delivery system have been filed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the non-profit patent and licensing arm of the UW-Madison.

The delivery system is similar to cancer “cocktails” where multiple drugs are used at once. However, what 3S Therapeutics proposes has substantially higher specificity and efficiency to tackle cancers because nanoparticles — particles at the atomic scale — have the ability to penetrate the body’s natural blood barriers. At the same time, its “three-in-one” technology will create low toxicity and bring about synergistic effects creating less cancer resistance.

“Our technological advantage is bringing safer drugs to the market. One of the main issues in drug delivery is the toxicity itself,” Saad said.

Other drug companies use delivery methods that have low solubility in water which need highly toxic substances for it to work. At the same time, the complications limit the drugs’ ability to effectively reach the tumor.

According to a review published this year in the Journal of Global Trends in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, more than $65 billion is wasted each year due to poor drug delivery. If pharmaceutical companies produce higher specificity and efficacy products using molecular targeting by nano-engineered devices such as 3S Therapeutics, drugs will be more efficient in treating patients while decreasing expenses.

At the same time, the drug delivery formulation involves low-cost research compared to the discovery of a new molecule.

“What makes our product unique is that the drugs we will be using have been used in a clinical setting on humans. So, the efficacy factor is high and requires a lot less regulatory hurdles compared to a completely new nano-delivery drug,” Saad said.

Pharmaceutical companies today are more inclined to utilize such technologies because it has a higher success rate in reaching the market and producing revenue.

To Saad and his team, bringing the product closer to market by seeking funding was a prime reason for entering the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. “All we need right now is funding to drive this product through the pipeline.”

3S Therapeutics is past the proof-of-concept stage and is moving on to animal studies and efficacy studies in tumor models.

With many aspects in favor of its nano-drug delivery system, 3S Therapeutics has high hopes for its products to end up in clinics where people can benefit from them.

“Every day I learn new things about this process of setting up this company and our product. There are a lot of questions we need to figure out and receive funding, but it’s very exciting,” Saad said.

3S Therapeutics was one of 49 finalists in the annual Business Plan Contest, which concludes in June at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

— Chen is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.