Over the last decade, Mt. Pleasant, MI-based Dendritic Nanotechnologies (DNT) has helped make Michigan into a world center of research on the versatile, tendriled molecules known as dendrimers. But while the molecules have a range of important applications, from killing microbes to reducing the unwanted side effects of drugs and pesticides, the company has ceded most R&D on the life-sciences side of dendrimers to its Australian parent company, Starpharma. DNT is now focused on dendrimers’ potential in more prosaic areas such as agriculture and cosmetics.
“Where DNT primarily plays around in is what we like to call the more industrial settings,” says Joe Heinzelmann, DNT’s product manager. Applications such as coatings and water purification have the advantage of requiring higher volume than the pharmaceutical industry, he says. Recently, for example, DNT signed a research and collaboration agreement with a U.S. agricultural company to enhance the performance of pesticides.
While Heinzelmann couldn’t disclose the company’s name due to confidentiality restrictions, he said the general principle in agriculture is similar to drug-delivery applications, where dendrimers are able to extend the persistence of an active molecule, potentially reducing the amount that needs to be used. The result in pharma could be fewer unintended side-effects; in pesticides, less chance of causing unintended damage to crops.
To back up, a little dendrimer history. It was here in Michigan about 30 years ago that Dow chemist Donald Tomalia first synthesized the molecules in his Midland lab. Dendrimers’ tendrils, or branches, make it possible to custom-engineer one molecule to perform as many tasks as the laws of chemistry and physics allow. Each appendage can have a separate task-one to sense disease-causing agent and another destroy it, for example.
Tomalia founded DNT in 2001 in a joint venture with Starpharma, based in Melbourne, Australia. Starpharma immediately began to investigate dendrimer technology as a potential anti-HIV microbicide. The product it … Next Page »