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ASU technology to treat chronic respiratory diseases

December 28, 2010

Miniature sensor technology developed in the laboratory of Professor N.J. Tao at the Biodesign Institute will be used to develop next-generation medical devices that can better monitor and treat chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, thanks to a licensing agreement reached between Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), ASU’s technology venturing arm, and Zcube, Srl, the research venture of Italian pharmaceutical leader Zambon Co., SpA.

“The technology Zcube licensed from AzTE is a game-changer for the monitoring and treatment of chronic respiratory diseases,” said Lorenzo Pradella, general manager of Zcube. “The tiny sensors – nearly flat and less than 1 cm across – will allow us to make portable devices to monitor and treat disease activity in real time and for far less cost that what is currently available.”

Devices that measure the concentration of relevant markers such as nitric oxide (NO) in human exhalations can accurately determine tissue inflammation and disease activity. However, the current state-of-the-art device is large, must be plugged in, and is commercialized at significantly high costs. Researchers in the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors at the Biodesign Institute – including Erica Forzani, Francis Tsow, Rod Iglesias and Xiaojun Xian – solved these problems.

Devices based on the tiny chips can be the same size as current asthma inhalers, will operate on rechargeable batteries, and can be manufactured much more inexpensively due to proprietary sensor and micro-electronics.

The long-term development goal is a device that will measure exhaled relevant markers concentration in real time and help doctors to adjust the dosage of an inhaled medication in response. Accurate data acquisition via a microcontroller and real-time data transmission via a Bluetooth chip will allow patients to perform measurements at any location.

If combined with GPS technology, the device also could track the location where the dosages occurred. This could be an important help with disease management as it would serve to alert the patient and health care provider to the places where asthma initiating agents were being encountered.

AzTE identified Zcube as a company that understood the emerging medical device venture space and could help bridge the gap between laboratory invention and commercial viability.

“Our licensing agreement with Zcube is proof that even global companies recognize the cutting-edge research with real-world impact being performed at ASU,” said Augustine Cheng, managing director of AzTE. “Professor Tao’s technology has the potential to revolutionize the way chronic respiratory diseases are treated worldwide.”

Zcube was founded in 2003 in an effort to support emerging life science technology and research worldwide. Since 2007, Zcube has placed particular emphasis on drug delivery systems and medical devices in different therapeutic fields. Zcube has already established collaborations with universities in Europe and Israel. Zcube is also a Limited Partner of Mission Bay Capital, LLC, the venture fund bolstering the fund’s ability to invest in promising bioscience companies emerging from the University of California and a member of the Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) Industrial Advisory Board in San Francisco.