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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
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
belief that three sciences — biology, chemistry, and physics —
are essential for drug development. The company’s logo is three
circles. Mehta, with a background in marketing as well as in
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
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
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
Recruiting the best scientists is difficult, he says, especially
the best, in his view, are not just great in the lab, but also
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
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
"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
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
Tris’ role is to add value to pharmaceutical products. It makes money
by licensing marketing rights to its patented technology to
companies against milestone payments and royalty on net sales.
As an example of its work, Tris holds a patent for the highest
capsule possible of paclitaxel, the active component in Taxol, a
Squibb drug that is one of the most commercially successful
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
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
into the venture as well. "Every penny I earn goes into the
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
and 25 Hamilton Drive, Princeton Junction 08550. Ketan Mehta,
609-392-8110; fax, 609-750-0116. Home page: www.trispharma.com
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