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STAT | Kendall Squared

Kendall entrepreneurs seek new ways to deliver drugs through skin

Novopyxis’s Droplette streams tiny droplets of medication that can be absorbed more readily through pores in the skin. Company cofounders Madhavi Gavini, Rathi Srinivas, and Raja Srinivas (from left) started work on their device in Gavini’s home.

Novopyxis’s Droplette streams tiny droplets of medication that can be absorbed more readily through pores in the skin. Company cofounders Madhavi Gavini, Rathi Srinivas, and Raja Srinivas (from left) started work on their device in Gavini’s home.

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When a group of entrepreneurs set out to develop a device to deliver drugs through the skin, they started close to home: at the kitchen table.

The team behind Novopyxis began their tests two years ago using food coloring and chicken pieces from the grocery store. They were trying to solve a vexing problem: The larger molecules in topical medications often fail to break through the skin’s layers and get absorbed.

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Now, Novopyxis has a prototype device, a lightweight, hand-held spray gun, which the team is using in animal models. And just this week, the startup won a “Golden Ticket” from pharma giant Amgen — free lab space for a year at the LabCentral incubator in Kendall Square. Amgen also awarded a Golden Ticket to Cocoon Biotech Inc., which is developing a silk protein that can be injected into joints for pain relief.

The Novopyxis device, known as Droplette, can be loaded with medications, from painkillers to antibiotics. Instead of coalescing into puddles on the skin’s surface, the tiny droplets that stream from the device remain separate and sneak through pores, ferrying drug molecules into the skin, the company says.

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In the lab this week, the team demonstrated the device using water, firing a visible mist out of its spray nozzle. It felt like a wisp of air passing over your arm. By contrast, an over-the-counter pain-relieving spray landed with a relative thud, leaving behind pools of liquid.

Novopyxis is still refining how drugs are loaded into the Droplette. But the company hopes the Food and Drug Administration will put it through a fast-track approval process for humanitarian-use devices. One goal: to treat patients with epidermolysis bullosa, a condition that causes the skin to blister and is extremely painful. Both antibiotics and pain relievers could be applied with Droplette.

Novopyxis said it has also attracted interest from the cosmetics industry, which is intrigued by how the device could deliver hydrating skin products.

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The startup’s cofounders — siblings Rathi and Raja Srinivas, Robert Applegate, and Madhavi Gavini — were working out of office space in Boston before moving to LabCentral. They still fondly remember their early days of tinkering in Gavini’s home.

There’s only so much that a kitchen table can do for you,” Rathi Srinivas said.

Development divide

The explosive growth of Kendall Square is setting up an explosive election for Cambridge City Council next month.

Challengers running for the council accuse seven incumbents of deferring too much to developers who want to build massive complexes of offices and luxury apartments. They say the construction boom in Kendall Square is overwhelming surrounding neighborhoods and driving out residents unable to afford the high cost of housing.

“East Cambridge is basically at ground zero for this development boom,” said candidate Mike Connolly.

The tensions mirror a divide in other tech hubs such as San Francisco and Seattle, where growth has powered local economies but spurred rising costs of living and, say critics, depleted neighborhood culture.

To stand apart from the seven incumbents who form the “Unity Slate,” several challengers have made a point of refusing campaign donations from developers. And many said they wanted to mandate more open space and affordable housing for the proposed redevelopment of the Volpe transportation center in the heart of Kendall.

Members of the Unity Slate have defended their work, including their votes to increase the fees developers pay toward affordable housing. But ultimately, they said, it’s a trade-off: In order to get more affordable housing, Kendall Square will need to accept new development. That’s a necessity, said Councilor Craig Kelley, a member of the Unity Slate. “We have to give [people] some place to live,” Kelley said.

A path forward

It’s an ambitious project that would better connect Kendall Square with surrounding neighborhoods. But it’s starting small: Just one solitary block.

Crews are building a 14-foot-wide multiuse path along Galileo Galilei Way between Main Street and Broadway, creating the first section of the Grand Junction Community Path, which is envisioned to run from the river to Somerville. The path could open up a new route in a city where most main roadways head east-west.

“In terms of biking, it’s a little bit difficult to cross the city north to south,” said Jason Zogg, program manager for the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, which is overseeing this stretch of the path.

A complete path, which would run along the railroad line, is years away. But even upgrading the single block in Kendall Square will help, planners say. Seating and play areas are replacing what was an underused sliver of open space, with only a gazebo that no one seemed to enjoy.

Main construction on the project, which was paid for by MIT and the redevelopment authority, is expected to wrap up next month, and the one-block section will open in the spring.

Andrew Joseph can be reached at andrew.joseph@statnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrewQJoseph. Follow Stat on Twitter: @statnews.
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