Shaping the Future of Patient Drug Delivery
It wasn’t until after a year since starting their venture did Jake Lombardo and Konstantinos Tzortzakis, MSIM ’19 alums, finally secure their first few investors for Anodyne Nanotech, a venture they co-founded in the MS in Innovation and Management program.
“We were getting close to our go, no-go zone where we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to continue doing this without pay,” Jake recalled.
Their breakthrough came in October of 2019, shortly after meeting with Michael Singer, MD, PhD – a serial entrepreneur, investor and physician-scientist – someone they were connected to through the MSIM network. Unbeknownst to the duo initially, the then-newly formed connection would give them insight and help catalyze their venture.
With Anodyne Nanotech, Jake and Konstantinos are reimagining the way that healthcare professionals administer drugs and treatments like ibuprofen and monoclonal antibodies.
For minor aches and pains, people traditionally seek relief through orally administered medications like ibuprofen. However, sustained use can stress and damage vital organs. When it comes to monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) – man-made macromolecules that act like human antibodies – delivery can be both expensive and painful for the patient, but the treatments are often lifesaving.
Anodyne Nanotech leverages microneedle technology in a patch that will be able to deliver these drugs in a more effective and healthier manner that is also convenient for patients.
“What sets us apart is that not only is it a microneedle that makes delivering the drug easier through the skin, but it’s a new type of microneedle where the drug is encapsulated throughout the entire structure. This allows us to load a lot more of the drug over a given area than any other microneedle technology,” said Jake who also noted that Anodyne Nanotech can address many indications like mAbs that other technologies cannot.
When they first started HeroPatch (later to become Anodyne Nanotech) as an Innovation Sprint with fellow MSIM cohort members Lulu Li, Robert Treiber, and Jianquan Wang, they were mainly focused on ibuprofen and still considered it a “school project.”
But quickly, their business would grow beyond the confines of a classroom as many ventures do in the MSIM program.
In the Spring of 2019, HeroPatch won the Ricci Interdisciplinary Prize and second place in the $100k New Ventures Competition’s Medical Devices and Life Science track. That summer, a slew of momentum was in store. They participated in the Tufts Venture Accelerator, San Francisco Bay Area Entrepreneurship & Technology Summit, NEHEN Summer Social, and Tufts Venture Road Show in Boston and New York City.
“During the summer, we were at this phase after the $100k Competition where we were excited; we had good feedback, but we didn’t have any experts to validate if this is a great business opportunity,” said Konstantinos. “It was like an excellent ‘school project,’ and we spent the whole summer like now, we need to do the next steps. We need to create a business. We need to find something very compelling.”
They found that “compelling” something when they met Michael Singer. Michael, who would soon become their first investor and a Senior Advisor, introduced them to other applications for the microneedle technology – ones that would help create an even bigger influence.
“That was really the first introduction to monoclonal antibodies and how huge of an impact we can have delivering them in this way — both economically, and more importantly, on the patient end in terms of being able to deliver them easier to children and generally,” said Jake. “Being the stubborn entrepreneurs you have to be sometimes, we didn’t take it at face value right away. We definitely put some research into it and thought it was a good idea, but we held onto ibuprofen for a little while, too.”
In the months since, all while navigating business needs like licensing their microneedle technology from Tufts and securing additional investors, their growth has been exponential. Anodyne Nanotech collaborated on research with the MGH Department of Pathology Flow and Image Cytometry Research Core. Their research was able to show that it could load and release antibodies that were effective in blood.
This past January, Jake and Konstantinos closed a SAFE (simple agreement for future equity) note round for $275,000. Now, they’re preparing for a primate study of their innovation and are about to finalize a $2 million funding round.
“[When we started the program,] we were super young entrepreneurs. We didn’t have any idea about what was going to follow,” Konstantinos said. “When we were students, we thought we were going to finish the program, raise $5 million and go through the FDA process. By the time we graduated, we understood that raising money it’s a much more complicated process that takes a lot of time.”
While their journey continues, the entrepreneurial duo’s readiness has been exemplified in the challenges and demands they’ve faced thus far – consistently emerging as stronger entrepreneurs.
“The MSIM program prepared us for how to learn. With the way you go through the MSIM program, you’ll rarely end up with a business that’s ready to go, but you’ll get all the skills and knowledge you need to then grow,” Konstantinos said while acknowleding the continuous support they’ve received from all their advisors.
“If something doesn’t work out, there will always be a way to make it work. For us, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this without taking chances,” said Jake.