Google made the investment way back in August, but still. Do these guys have a hankering for companies that make robots, or what?
Google may well turn out to be the most important developer of robots in history. Crazy. Especially crazy when one considers that it began the pursuit of robotics from a background in search engines. Then again, aren’t search engines and robotics turning out to be just other tributaries of the same river, IT?
Annually in U.S.: $110B injectable biologics
In a gamble on making oral versions of typically injected therapies, Google Ventures has joined forces with InCube Ventures and VentureHealth to fund a Series B round for Rani Therapeutics. And with its lofty oral-delivery goals, San Jose, CA-based Rani is tackling the kind of big idea in biotech that Google’s venture fund likes to bankroll.
WSJ:?Prolific inventor Mir Imran has created a robotic pill to replace injectable drugs for chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The gadget, in preclinical studies and backed by Google Inc. venture-capital unit, consists of an ingestible polymer and tiny hollow needles made of sugar that are designed to safely deliver drugs to the small intestine.
Rani issued a press release about the venture deal without dollar details, but a Wall Street Journal blog reported that the amount raised was in excess of $10M.
Drug delivery experts have long dreamed of the multibillion-dollar opportunity of making lucrative injected products such as insulin and anti-TNF therapies into easy-to-take pills. Yet there are myriad obstacles, including the destructive powers of the digestive tract, which can prevent enough of the biologics from reaching the blood stream if swallowed.
Spearheaded by medical tech entrepreneur Mir Imran at InCube Labs, Rani has tested oral biologics in preclinical experiments with bioavailability of more than 50 percent, according to InCube’s website.
Rani Therapeutics, InCube Labs’ startup to commercialize robot pill
Such a pill would have seemed unthinkable years ago. But advancements in technology and scientific research have recently led to two federally approved robotic pills.
Mr. Imran’s pill hasn’t yet been tested in humans, so it is probably still at least a year away from even seeking federal approval. It also would require substantial financing to manufacture millions of pills. But if it is successful, the gadget has the potential to disrupt a multibillion-dollar market for injectable drugs and make life easier for millions of sufferers of conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Mr. Imran is a safer bet than most entrepreneurs. The Indian-born founder of the research lab and business incubator InCube Labs in Silicon Valley has founded more than 20 medical-device startups, a dozen of which have been acquired by companies such as Medtronic Inc. He owns over 300 patents and helped develop the first implantable cardioverter defibrillator to correct irregular heartbeats.
Rani Therapeutics, the startup formed at InCube Labs to commercialize the robot pill, last year (August, 2013) raised funds from Google Ventures and angel-investment fund VentureHealth.
Blake Byers, the Google Ventures general partner who spearheaded the investment, says Mr. Imran may be achieving one of the “holy grails” for biotechnology by figuring out how to deliver protein-based drugs such as basal insulin to the body without the use of a syringe.
“This investment is not exactly in our wheelhouse, but we’re open to people who can change our minds,” Mr. Byers said. “This one really stood out as a huge clinical need; $110B is spent in the U.S. every year on biologics, all of them injectable.”
In preclinical studies, Rani Therapeutics has shown that its robotic pill can boost drug absorption at least as high as syringes can, Mr. Imran said.
“I am guardedly optimistic, and I say guardedly because there is still a lot of work left to do,” said Elliott Sigal, who several months ago retired from drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. His 16-year run at the drug maker included top posts in drug discovery and development and a nearly 10-year tenure as the head of research and development.
“Rani’s engineering-based approach to this is very innovative,” said Mr. Sigal, who doesn’t have a financial stake in the business.
“He is getting results that I have not seen before. It hasn’t been tried in human patients yet, and things do sometimes fail at that level. But if the [trials] data continues, there will be a great deal of pharma interest.”