Ben Franklin


Keystone Nano: Developing New Nanoscale Therapeutics to Treat Medical Conditions

Picture a technology that has the potential to revolutionize chemical and biomedical research, imaging and drug delivery. The last thing you probably envision is something so small it’s measured in billionths of a meter-the nanometer. This new technology is called “Molecular Dots,” and in many industries, they’re proving conclusively that smaller is definitely better.

Keystone Nano

Keystone Nano’s “Molecular Dots” nanotechnology can be used in many industries. In the pharmaceutical arena, for example, drugs can be made water-soluble by putting a “molecular jacket” on them. This allows the drugs to be delivered to the right places in the right doses, leading to more effective treatment with fewer side effects.

The pharmaceutical market is just one of many targets for Molecular Dots. “It’s difficult to get drugs to the right place in the human body and to get them there in a dosage that is reasonable and acceptable,” says Jeff Davidson, CEO of Keystone Nano. “That’s where Molecular Dots come in.”

Take cancer, for example. Many treatments that are effective against cancer also have terrible side effects on the rest of the human body. But if clinicians could deliver those drugs in one-tenth or one-fiftieth of the standard dose, they could still get the tumor-decreasing effects without the other negative side effects.

“We can put those drugs into a nano-sized format and make them water-soluble by putting a ‘molecular jacket’ on them,” says Davidson. This allows the drugs to be delivered to the right places in the right doses, leading to more effective treatment with fewer side effects. Molecular Dots are made from several materials, including calcium phosphosilicate, a natural material. They do not use toxic, cadmium-based semiconductor materials, unlike other similar processes.

Multiple Markets for University Research

Beyond drug delivery, Molecular Dots, or MDs, have a wide range of other market applications. “We plan to use MDs in chemicals in industrial processing, research tools, biomedical imaging and, potentially, medical imaging of humans,” Davidson says. Molecular Dots grew out of years of research done at Penn State University by Jim Adair, chief scientific officer of Keystone Nano, and at Hershey Medical Center by Mark Kester, chief medical officer of the company.

Keystone Nano got off the ground in large part through funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP). Penn State’s Intellectual Property Office helped guide the formation of the company, negotiated a license agreement and introduced Davidson to BFTP, which provided $10,000 in seed funding, followed by an additional $100,000 investment. BFTP’s Transformation Business Services Network also provided critical business development expertise.

“Ben Franklin has been terrific,” Davidson says. “Small companies don’t have as wide a range of skill sets on board as more established businesses, so they provide invaluable expertise far beyond the funding.”

Scaling Up through Innovation

Keystone Nano currently has two full-time employees-Davidson and Mylisa Parette, research manager. Kester and Adair, both Penn State faculty members, and Robert Cornwall from the Penn State Materials Resource Institute and VP of operations for Keystone Nano, all spend as much time as they can with the company on a part-time basis. “We are in the process of hiring, and we would like to make our next three hires in the next 30 to 90 days and possibly two more beyond that,” Davidson says.

Meanwhile, Keystone Nano plans to continue to refine Molecular Dots. “We have an outstanding base, but any base needs further refinement and development to make it applicable in multiple circumstances,” Davidson says. “We may even need to do something different, both scientifically and in terms of business. We’re thankful Ben Franklin will be there with us to help guide the company into the future.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes April, 2007
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