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SPIE Professional October 2012 - Bonus Web Content

Laser drug delivery

Portuguese researcher wins Startup Challenge

Logo for SPIE Photonics WestWinning a trip to the University of California, Davis Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy has given confidence to University of Coimbra (Portugal) researcher Carlos Serpa that his LaserLeap startup will find the capital needed to bring his noninvasive, transdermal, laser drug-delivery device to market.

Serpa, cofounder and CEO of LaserLeap and an assistant researcher with the Photochemistry Group at Coimbra, received sponsorship from Jenoptik and SPIE for the five-day academy as the winner of the 2012 Biophotonics Startup Challenge at SPIE Photonics West in January.

During his week at the academy, Serpa met with venture capital managers, patent lawyers, and other biotech entrepreneurs whose advice to him will “clearly influence the directions we will follow,” he says. The meetings left Serpa “more than ever seriously committed” to the future success of his startup company and to his idea that began in a university-funded fundamental research project.

“Our team is motivated to make this technology available as soon as possible to improve the quality of life,” he says.


  Delivering low-molecular- and high-molecular-weight compounds through the skin may be an alternative to oral administration in cases where drugs are destroyed in the intestinal tract.

LaserLeap has already developed prototypes for an alternative to syringes and pills. The company has tested dermal delivery with target compounds and begun the regulatory process with a European agency. Serpa and his partners are also seeking financing and partnerships in the United States.

The laser device consists of a low-power pulsed laser that generates high-frequency ultrasound. The photoacoustic wave painlessly creates a temporary perforation in a patient’s skin — allowing medicine or cosmetics to be delivered effectively — before the perforation closes up again after a couple of minutes.

It has three major market applications, therapeutic, analgesic, and cosmetic, with cosmetic being the initial target.

"The use of low-power lasers, the fact that the laser is never in contact with the skin, and that the process is painless and reversible (skin recovers in a couple of minutes!) suggests its use in various important medical and cosmetic treatments that currently use syringes,"Soares says.

Serpa also presented a paper at SPIE Photonics West on his technology titled, "Intense high-frequency pressure waves produced with low laser fluences." He and co-authors Gonçalo F. F. Sá and Luis G. Arnaut show evidence that cells exposed to pressure waves generated by laser pulses are not damaged and that skin recovers its protective function minutes after exposure to the pressure waves.

Eight participants in two startup contests at SPIE Photonics West 2012 received sponsorships to attend the academy this year. (See videos from the winning entries at the 2012 Startup Challenge.)

New format for 2013

SPIE Startup ChallengeSPIE will host the third annual SPIE Startup Challenge in February 2013 at Photonics West. Next year's prizes will include the addition of significant cash awards for winners as well as sponsorship to attend the Entrepreneurship Academies. The 2013 SPIE Startup Challenge is supported by lead sponsor JENOPTIK.

This competitive event invites new entrepreneurs to pitch their light-based technology business plan to a team of corporate development experts and venture capitalists. Written applications are due 1 December to enter the 2013 competition.

A team of expert judges will evaluate the written applications and select 20 semi-final pitches to enter the first round of the competition on Monday, 4 February, 2013.

A different panel of judges will select the top 10 presenters from Monday to go on to the final competition on Wednesday, 6 February. The final round will occur before judges and an audience, with judges deciding the top three pitches.

For more information about the 2013 Startup Challenge, email: dirkf@spie.org

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

To receive a print copy of SPIE Professional, the SPIE member magazine, become an SPIE member.


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201210.15

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