By Allan Maurer

RALEIGH, NC—When a company such as NanoVector, which is developing a plant virus as a nanoparticle drug delivery system gets ready to go to market, its scientific founders turn to experienced entrepreneurial execs. “The key skill needed is the ability to raise money,” says NanoVector CEO Albert Bender.

Bender, a PhD in electrical engineering, started his first company in 1982. “Most were in telecom, datacom, software and hardware, Bender says of his four venture-backed startups. “Drug delivery is not my area of expertise, but the skills needed to start and run a company are the same.

“The key skill is the ability to raise money. Whether it is with angel investors or venture capital, you want someone who has done it before. This market is not interested in inexperienced management teams, even if the opportunity is interesting.”

During his career, Bender has raised 10 rounds of venture capital totaling $150 million for his startups. Three of them sold for good investor returns. He has contacts with 350 North American-based venture capitalist partners.

The typical mid-sized venture firm gets more than 1,000 business plans a year, he notes. They invest in fewer than 10. “So,” says Bender, “They have lots to choose from. You have to ask, how does yours compare?”

“We think we have a homerun with NanoVector,” he says. The company is seeking about $600,000 in seed money to develop its unique drug delivery technology. “We’re about a third of the way there,” says Bender. “We’re getting good traction with some angel groups.”

The seven-year old company has experimented with a variety of nanoparticles. A recent breakthrough using a plant virus demonstrated effective targeting and delivery of a drug payload, overcoming many problems they faced with metal-based nanoparticles. The company bases its technology on research by two North Carolina State University professors.

Most research on nanoparticles is still focused on synthetic particles. “We think we will set a whole new paradigm,” says Bender.

(See part one of the NanoVector story at: NanoVector virus may solve nanoparticle drug delivery problems:

Bruce Oberhardt, president and chief scientific officer of the firm, says, “The amazing thing to me is how this technology solves so many problems other technologies have been unable to solve.”

For one thing, he says, manufacturing the plant virus-based nanoparticle becomes “trivial” compared to making synthetic particles. “I think this will break away from the pack,” he says.

NanoVector’s angel round would advance the company to the point where it can attract the attention of larger venture firms. It would seek second round of about $7.5 million.

NanoVector is developing a plant nanoparticle drug delivery system initially targeting anti-cancer therapeutics. “It is considered a medical device,” says Bender. That’s important because the regulatory hurdles to get a medical device FDA approved are considerably less arduous for a medical device than for an experimental drug.

Once perfected, the company’s plant nanoparticle could be used as a platform to deliver cancer-targeted reformulations of existing drugs, making them more effective with less toxicity to normal cells.

“You still have to go through pre-clinical animal studies, toxicity and safety studies,” notes Bender, “but you do fewer human trials.” That saves time and money, he points out. The company currently plans to license the technology to large pharmaceutical companies to complete expensive Phase III trials.

While the technology can target a number of chronic diseases, NanoVector will focus on several specific caners initially.

“We can target the nucleus of a cell,” Bender explains. “We own the patent position on that and it enables us to very effectively target cancer cells and kill them.”

Markets for cancer therapies are immense. The North American market for breast and colon/rectal cancers alone will reach $20 billion a year by 2010, and globally, $65 billion in the same period.

“We are about three years from the clinic,” says Bender. “We hope to be doing trials in humans in three years, but we have a lot of work to do.” That includes the animal, toxicity and safety testing.

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