Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Figge Fox was prepared for the
April 11, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Transave: Getting Drugs to the Lungs
His first microscope and chemistry set were what Frank
Pilkiewicz remembers as his favorite toys, and he spent his growing-up
years in his mother’s retail business, a flower shop. In the first
half of his career, Pilkiewicz did biotech research, and now he has
moved over to the business side.
"I learned that good science needs good business, both a good
scientific plan and a good business plan," says Pilkiewicz. He
had worked at progressively smaller companies — first with Squibb,
then with Liposome, and then at Oncotherapeutics, later sold to a
Canadian firm, Biomira. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he started
yet another company, Transave Inc., to develop new methods of drug
delivery for lung disease.
He opened Transave Inc. in September at Princeton Corporate Plaza
with co-founder Roman Perez Soler, associate director of clinical
oncology at New York University. The first employees were manager
Claire Strupinsky, who has been with him since Liposome days, and
Joel Portnoff, vice president of R&D. The company currently has eight
employees and is growing. It is building a patent portfolio; some
have been filed, some issued, and licenses have been taken on others.
Early venture funding has been from TVM, based in Munich and Boston.
With just a laptop demo, the young company took the best "early
stage company" prize at last month’s New Jersey Technology Council
Tuberculosis is still the number one disease around the world, says
Pilkiewicz, and the life span of 85 percent of lung cancer victims
is just two years. In fact, treatments for lung disease —
and cancer plus asthma and cystic fibrosis — were worth $15
last year. At Princeton Corporate Plaza on Deer Park Drive, his
is developing a platform technology, "Sustained release Lipid
Inhalation Targeting" or SLIT, to administer drugs directly to
the lung and keep it there for a longer than usual time period.
"Our technology could give you the ability to administer drugs
locally by inhalation," Pilkiewicz says. "It addresses two
of the main limitations for inhalation. One, that you can’t keep drugs
in the lung. We are working to sustain the release. Two, that you
can’t target the drug to the site of the disease. We’re working to
Treating something locally can cut down on the amount of the drug
needed. "If you cut your hand it makes more sense to put
on the cut," he says. "You can give a large dose with an
But with inhalation, you are limited by how much you can inhale at
any one time, and what goes in the lung does not stay there. "
Asthma sufferers use inhalation therapy but most other lung diseases
are treated by injection. "Our approach to the lung is unique,
to make delivery systems that can sustain release and target
to treat lung disease. To my knowledge no one has focused specifically
on this area," Pilkiewicz says. "What we are doing is
membrane delivery systems that resemble cells in the lung, vehicles
that work with a stealth effect."
These systems can be used to deliver the latest therapies, such as
those employing genes, proteins, and peptides. It can also deliver
the "classic" pharmaceuticals. With a new delivery method,
the drug inventor can extend its patents. "We take the product
currently given by injection to treat disease far from the injection
site and make it more effective; we localize it and reduce the amount
of drug needed," says Pilkiewicz.
Pilkiewicz has had an abiding interest in health care since he was
a young child. His father, who suffered from rheumatic fever, had
a stroke and lost his speech, and when Pilkiewicz was three years
old, his job was to use his ABC book to help his father relearn the
sounds of the alphabet. His father died the following year. More
his wife’s father — who had survived lung cancer — died of
cancer that spread again to the lung.
Pilkiewicz had two older sisters, and together with his mother, they
ran the family shop. After majoring in chemistry at St. Peter’s
Class of 1968, he did his PhD at Rutgers plus post doctoral work at
Columbia in bioorganic chemistry. He and his wife have mirrored the
family pattern — they have two grown daughters and a five-year-old
son. The older daughter is on the way to being a clinical
and the younger daughter is a premed student at Syracuse.
As a discovery scientist at what was then called the Squibb Institute
for Medical Research on Route 206, Pilkiewicz helped resurrect the
infectious disease unit. Ten years later, in 1987, he joined Liposome.
"I had a natural interest in drug delivery and was working with
a compound, amphotercinB, that was the most potent antifungal
available. I was trying to find something better and couldn’t. I
intrigued with using a new kind of drug delivery to improve that
He turned his amphotercinB compound into Ablecet, the first commercial
product for Liposome.
Still more of a scientist than a business man, his interest turned
to applying drug delivery to immunology and vaccines etc, and he left
Liposome in the early ’90s to be chief scientific officer at
"Liposome was doing very well. The stock was in the teens. I felt
I could leave the Ablecet there to go on to commercialization."
He was intrigued by the idea of starting a virtual company with no
employees. The firm grew from two to 25 or 30 people, housed in new
laboratories designed by Hillier and owned by Eastern Properties at
"In a three to four-year span, we went from being a virtual
to having several products and clinical trials," he says.
merged with Biomira instead of braving the IPO market. "The window
to go public was not open, and Biomira was publicly traded. They
a U.S. presence."
"At a smaller company I had more of a hands on role.
afforded me more involvement in the business and the partnering side.
I had never written contracts, looked for partnerships, or gone out
to raise money and the CEO — Gordon Ramseier — gave me the
opportunity to do that. I started to like doing the business side
more than the science side."
"Both Liposome and Biomira are developing products that we
and that is all I can hope for," he says in summary. "You
always feel good when you do something scientifically that can help
"Roman and I had natural interest in treating lung diseases,"
he says. "I am intrigued that nobody really understands what
to things when they go in your lung."
— Barbara Figge Fox
08852. Claire Strupinsky, manager of corporate administration.
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