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Startup company sees promise for its technology in healthcare

Frank Vinluan on June 21, 2011 Source: MedCityNews.com

Nanofibers are still finding their place in medicine. But Miles Wright readily counts the areas where his company’s technology could improve healthcare. Surgery. Wound care. Regenerative medicine.

And that’s just the start.

Raleigh, North Carolina startup Xanofi has not developed nanofibers for any of these applications. Wright, Xanofi’s CEO, has no plans to. What the company has developed is a new manufacturing technology that makes nanofiber production faster, less expensive and scalable. Xanofi is currently talking to companies in various industries who may be interested in licensing the technology. And that could integrate nanotechnology in medicine.

“We think we’ll be able to solve challenges in a lot of fields, including medicine,” Wright said.

The nanofiber products market was $80.7 million in 2009, according to BCC Research. That market is forecast to reach $2.2 billion in total revenues by 2020. Mechanical and chemical applications account for more than 70 percent of that market right now. But Wright expects medical applications will have a place in that growing market.

Nanofibers are typically made one of two ways. Electrospinning uses an electric charge to form the nanofiber. Meltblowing employs extremely high temperatures to form the nanofibers. Both methods are energy intensive and mechanically harsh.

Xanofi has developed a third way: a process that makes nanofibers through the shear force from liquids. Wright said that not only will Xanofi’s technology produce nanofibers at half the cost of current manufacturing techniques, it will also produce yields 20 times higher. A patent is pending.

Xanofi’s technology could be particularly suited to nanofiber manufacturing for medical applications. Nanoparticles and surface coatings for medical applications do not hold up well under the high heat required for meltblowing. With Xanofi’s method, those temperatures are not an issue.

Nanofibers are already weaving their way into medical applications. Oregon company HemCon Medical Technologies has developed a bandage employing nanofibers that consists of different layers that can absorb fluids, deliver antibiotics and stop blood. HemCon makes nanofibers with electrospinning technology from Czech firm Elmarco.

Other potential nanofiber applications include surgical mats to protect organs from surgical adhesions. Made from bioabsorbable materials, these mats could be left in place after surgery, Wright said. In regenerative medicine, nanofibers could form a scaffolding-like structure that gives cells a place to grow. Researchers are working on such applications right now. Brown University scientists are developing a nanofiber patch for the heart that is intended to help the regeneration of dead cardiac tissue. Made from carbon nanofibers, the patch does not interfere with the heart’s natural electrical pathways. Results from some of Brown’s work so far were published last month.

Xanofi spun out from North Carolina State University, where the technology was developed from seven years of research in the chemical engineering department. The company was founded last September and has raised $300,000 in angel investment. Xanofi now has a pilot machine at its Raleigh facility. Commercial manufacturing is scheduled to start this summer.

While Xanofi’s system offers promise in medical applications, Wright said the technology is a platform technology that will be first commercialized in non-medical uses. Clinical testing is expensive and takes a long time. Medicine is also an area where the company has no expertise, Wright said. Xanofi is first seeking co-development agreements or manufacturing contracts with companies in non-medical fields looking to bring the technology into applications such as water filtration, acoustics and batteries. Medical uses will likely come from a partner interested in developing the nanofiber manufacturing technology for medical applications.

“I’m not sure what our sweet spot is going to be,” Wright said. “It could be filtration. It could be energy. It could be medical. All it takes is one.”

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