Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 8,

2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

On the Move

Any number of promising drugs die during development.

One common reason, says Ketan Mehta, founder of Tris Pharma, is that

they cannot be absorbed into the body. Mehta formed his company in

2000 to develop new platform technologies to address this problem.

Its first product is Lipisol, which, Mehta says, increases absorption

by a factor of two to five.

Tris Pharma, now located in the Trenton Business & Technology Center,

has just been given a $550,000 loan by Commerce Bank, 50 percent

guaranteed

by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which will fund

a move to a 10,000 square-foot permanent office at 2033 Route 130

South in Monmouth Junction.

The company, which now has eight employees, draws its name from

Mehta’s

belief that three sciences — biology, chemistry, and physics —

are essential for drug development. The company’s logo is three

entwined

circles. Mehta, with a background in marketing as well as in

pharmaceutical

science, called upon a professional design firm, Marketing Edge of

New Brunswick, for the logo. "Many times, a young company doesn’t

invest in marketing," he says, but he believes it is important

to do so.

Mehta, a native of India, received his undergraduate training in

pharmaceutical

science at Gujarat University. His father, an attorney, encouraged

him to obtain graduate education in the United States — he holds

a master’s degree in pharmaceutical science from the University of

Oklahoma. When he arrived in the United States, his plan was to return

to India, but he soon became attached to his adopted country. "I’m

too American to go back," he says.

Upon graduating, Mehta did R&D for Carter Wallace and marketing and

business development for Warner Lambert. A Princeton Junction resident

and the father of two young sons, Mehta decided to start his own

company

in central New Jersey because of the school systems, and also because

it was here that he thought he had the best chance of attracting top

scientists.

Recruiting the best scientists is difficult, he says, especially

because

the best, in his view, are not just great in the lab, but also

understand

the importance of things like intellectual property. "Every young

company," he says, "wants people who are very resourceful,

who don’t do just one thing. Scientists now have to have some business

savvy."

Tris, which plans on employing some 20 scientists within two years,

is now looking for analytical scientists and for scientists skilled

in formulation techniques, including tableting and coating.

The company has a two-pronged market. It works with pharmaceutical

companies with products in the development stage, and with companies

with existing products that cannot easily be absorbed or that must

be administered by injection or by pills so large that they are hard

to swallow.

"A lot of HIV and cancer drugs have solubility and absorption

problems," says Mehta. This is especially true with drugs designed

through a new generation of combinatorial chemistry, with tools that

include computer modeling. That method of drug development, he

explains,

often results in molecules that are much like the body’s own molecules

and are very poorly absorbed. Tris’ contribution, says Mehta, "is

a fundamental knowledge of what you do to these molecules to reach

the site, to go through the GI tract and achieve the desired levels

in the blood."

In some cases, poor absorption means a drug has to be injected, rather

than taken in pill form. In other cases it means that a patient has

to take a very large pill — perhaps 400 milligrams — several

times a day. Increasing absorption can improve compliance, Mehta says,

by reducing pill size and the number of pills taken each day, and

by allowing patients to swallow a capsule rather than give themselves

an injection.

Tris’ role is to add value to pharmaceutical products. It makes money

by licensing marketing rights to its patented technology to

pharmaceutical

companies against milestone payments and royalty on net sales.

As an example of its work, Tris holds a patent for the highest

strength

capsule possible of paclitaxel, the active component in Taxol, a

Bristol-Myers

Squibb drug that is one of the most commercially successful

chemo>therapeutic

agents. Paclitaxel must now be infused over a long period of time

and most often in an in-patient setting. Tris’ capsule, now being

tested on animals, holds the potential to allow cancer patients to

take a capsule at home rather than travel to a hospital to be hooked

up to an IV drip.

The company will look for a partner in bringing this capsule to

market,

says Mehta, citing the arduous process of FDA approval through which

it will have to pass. "We need a good partner," says Mehta.

"We would be delighted to have Bristol-Myers." But there are

other possible partners, pharmaceuticals recently approved by the

FDA to market paclitaxel as an injectable.

While products like this hold tremendous promise, Tris has not carved

out an easy niche. A Florida company, he relates, got as far as Stage

II with a non-injectable form of paclitaxel before failing. "This

is a hotly contested area of research," he says.

Mehta is confident, though. He put a second mortgage on his house

to back the loan his company has just secured, and has put stock

options

into the venture as well. "Every penny I earn goes into the

company,"

he says. And how does he sleep at night? Very well. "It’s like

the Nike commercial," he says. "I just do it."

His wife, Smita, on the other hand, "is a nervous wreck,"

he says. She divides her time between caring for their sons and doing

accounting for Mehta’s start-up. He plows straight ahead while she

does the worrying. Says Mehta, "That’s our deal."

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Tris Pharma, 36 South Broad Street, Trenton 08608

and 25 Hamilton Drive, Princeton Junction 08550. Ketan Mehta,

president.

609-392-8110; fax, 609-750-0116. Home page: www.trispharma.com


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