UF-spawned Prometheon Pharma uses crowdfunding in developing insulin patch for diabetes

Left to right, lead scientist Hua Yao, director Devon D. Grimme, CEO Stephen I. Hsu, MD, PhD, and biologist Grant Mangleburg are shown in their lab space at Prometheon Pharma, where they are working on an insulin patch.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 11, 2014 at 5:15 p.m.

Sitting in his office, Dr. Stephen Hsu opened a small black carrying case to reveal an array of antique metal and glass syringes neatly arranged on the cushion inside.

He plucks out a Becton-Dickinson model from circa 1922, the year of the first insulin injection by needle. Nearly a century later, technology hasn't changed much for diabetes patients, Hsu said, except for a transition to disposable plastic needles that end up as medical waste.

Hsu and his University of Florida-spawned company, Prometheon Pharma, are looking to change that with an insulin patch they are trying to bring to market by 2018 as an alternative to needle injections.

Recently, the company, which has operated out of the UF Sid Martin Biotech Incubator in Alachua since 2012, launched a $1 million crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo to pay for the animal testing on pigs that is required before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will green light human trials with the patch technology.

Looking to raise money through the Internet and social media, the company has branded its fundraising campaign with the attention-grabbing motto #NoPricks on Twitter and launched the website www.nopricks.com.

Hsu said the patch is intended as a "more convenient" and more effective way for people with diabetes to manage their disease. Instead of taking multiple insulin shots daily, they could potentially wear the patch to deliver insulin for up to seven days.

It also would offer an alternative for people who are afraid of injecting themselves with needles, he said.

The patch will be transparent to not stand out or clash with the skin color of the person using it. It also will be biodegradable, Hsu said.

Hsu developed the patch technology while a faculty member at the UF College of Medicine. In 2012, the patch landed Hsu among the finalists for the annual Cade Museum Prize for inventors and entrepreneurs. UF owns the patent, and Prometheon has an exclusive license to use the technology. Devon Grimme, Prometheon's director for business development and a UF graduate, said the university will get a percentage of the profits. He declined to give the specific amount.

Right now, UF is offering a low-cost lease at the Biotech Incubator and access to the conference room and shared lab equipment at the building, which houses a slew of university spin-off companies.

But Grimme said the university is not providing any money toward the required testing. He said anyone contributing to the crowdfunding campaign will not receive any equity in the firm but will get perks such as NoPricks pens, T-shirts and plaques on the company's "Founder's Wall."

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