Creating breakthrough biomedical devices through novel molecule applications

Jeanette Ho

Jeanette Ho, alumna and vice-president of Interface Biologics Inc

July 9, 2012

When she graduated from the Centre for Biomaterials (now IBBME) and Chemical Engineering with a Master of Applied Science (MASc) in 1997, Jeannette Ho was already thinking big. The year she graduated, Ho was the recipient of the Martin Walmsley Fellowship, a distinguished award which gave Jeannette the mentorship she needed to build her thesis research on surface modifying macromolecules (SMM) into applications leading to a viable company.

It didn’t take her long.

SMM,—or Endexo™, as it’s currently known commercially—is a polyurethane-based molecule patented by Professor Paul Santerre. Ho had been conducting her graduate research under Santerre on ways to apply the molecule to device applications when she hit upon something big. The result was Jycho Surface Technology, created in 1997.

“We needed [SMM] to be scaled up to product applications,” says Ho. As she worked in Santerre’s lab, she describes, “I was taking SMM and blending it into base materials, making widgets and prototypes, and we were able to evaluate them for blood compatibility.”

Ho found herself in the enviable position of having a very promising product, and no lack of interest in the technology. The U of T Innovation and Patent Office, which had originally funded the intellectual property protection of the research, came calling. But as Santerre had two other complementary technologies surrounding blood coagulation or infection control technologies ready to move into commercial opportunities at the same time, it was decided that Jycho Surface Technology—the company representing Ho’s technology—would be more effective if rolled into a new company representing all three.

Interface Biologics Inc. was born in 2001.

“Endexo is a fantastic technology for many blood contact applications, such as hemodialysis. This is a multi-million dollar industry and one that is growing with an ever-aging society,” explains Santerre, Interface Biologics Inc.’s founder and Chief Scientific Officer.

One of the major problems during kidney dialysis or other hemodialytic treatments are blood clots. Clots are not only dangerous—they reduce the efficiency of the treatments. Typically, preventative drugs such as Heparin—a widely-used anti-coagulant—are added to medical devices such as tubing, or administered directly to patients, as a preventative measure.

But Heparin comes with its own dangers. On top of the substantial cost of administering a drug through the treatment or post-treatment process, “some people are allergic to Heparin,” says Ho, “and once administered the ability to clot is lessened.” Drugs are also time-dependent, resulting in a limited and unpredictable usage. Moreover, if the drug is introduced to a device while it’s being used, the interaction between device and drug potentially alter the drug’s effects—or the ability of the medical device to function properly.

Endexo™ is added in very low concentrations to the base materials of medical devices. When the devices are manufactured—catheters, for instance—the Endexo™ molecules migrate to the surface, blocking blood platelets, a key component of blood clots, from sticking. Blood clots are discouraged from forming without changing any of the underlying properties of that device. Ho calls it a “passive” technology.

It’s also a platform technology. Interface Biologics, Inc. currently has numerous formulations of Endexo™. The product is tailor-made for each device’s specific needs.

“It’s like the base polymer, but with little bells and whistles added to it,” Ho explains.

Though a start up still in its early commercial phase, the technologies of Interface Biologics Inc. are already showing tremendous promise.

The company was voted one of the top 10 Life Sciences Investment/partnering prospects in 2003 and 2004 by the Ottawa Life Sciences Council, and in 2011, Health Canada approved the Endexo™ technology for use in the Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) in Canadian hospitals. It is also being sold in European markets and is anticipated to be approved for US markets in 2012.