Published September 4, 2019
Praveen Arany and Daniel Chan would have never guessed that a friendship forged over badminton would lead to the formation of an emerging biotechnology startup.
The pair, who coached together for nearly five years at Rally Niagara Badminton Club in North Tonawanda, are the co-founders of OptiMed Technology. The company utilizes nanotechnology to develop toothpaste and 3D-printed denture material that treat irreversible gum overgrowth and fungal infections, conditions that affect millions of people each year.
The technology is based on research from the lab of Arany, assistant professor in the Department of Oral Biology, School of Dental Medicine, who last year developed 3-D printed dentures filled with microscopic capsules that periodically release antifungal medication to fight infection.
The company recently received a $25,000 grant from the UB Center for Advanced Technology in Big Data and Health Sciences (UB CAT), part of the university’s Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships, to advance the development of its initial products.
“The mouth is more than a simple portal to the body. There is increasing appreciation, especially based on seminal work done in our school, on the impact of good oral care on overall health,” says Arany, chief scientific and strategy officer for OptiMed Technology.
“Our lab is focused on biotechnologies that enable this mission using innovative approaches with biomaterials and biomedical devices. Since inception of the company this past fall, we are rapidly advancing from a lab-based process to a production scale-up.”
OptiMed Technology, which operates with a team of 10 scientists, engineers and advisers out of Foster Hall on the South Campus, began with a conversation between Arany and Chan on a badminton court at Rally Niagara Badminton Club.
Arany, searching for ways to help patients access a novel oral stomatitis treatment using light therapy developed in his lab, raised the issue to Chan. A serial entrepreneur who founded and sold several businesses, Chan suggested commercialization as a potential avenue.
“The part that excites me is that we could help restore quality of life for the patient,” says Chan, managing partner for the company and a graduate student in the School of Management. “Connecting science, research and entrepreneurship will lead to innovations that improve quality of life for everyday people.”
With the encouragement of Frank Scannapieco, chair of the Department of Oral Biology, the pair quickly went to work, securing a spot in the state’s START-UP NY economic development program and building support from connections within the health care and pharmaceutical fields.
The company’s first product is digoDent, a toothpaste that treats drug-induced gingival overgrowth (DIGO), the development of irreversible scar tissue in the gums that could cause them to cover the teeth, interfering with chewing, speaking and oral hygiene. The condition, which affects more than 1 million people each year, can cause bad breath, pain, anxiety and even the loss of teeth, according to past research.
DIGO is a side effect of several commonly prescribed drugs, including immunosuppressants and anti-seizure and high blood pressure medications. Current treatment is limited to surgery to remove scar tissue. However, these procedures are expensive — costing between $500 and $1,500 — and temporary, as DIGO can reoccur within months.
The toothpaste contains drug-filled microspheres that work to prevent the development of DIGO. By delivering the drug within toothpaste, patients can begin the therapy without alternating their daily routine, Arany explains.
“The rapid progress in biology and biotechnologies are, unfortunately, not keeping pace with improvements in medicine,” he adds. “The often-quoted ‘valley of death’ for bench science to become clinical applications can take several years, sometime decades.
“Our work is spurring a new generation of both scientists and clinical entrepreneurs who are getting involved with commercialization and real-world implementation of their discoveries. It is an exciting time to be pursuing translational sciences.”
OptiMed Technology is working with the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Center for Dental Studies within the School of Dental Medicine to develop and test the product for launch in 2020.
The company will later develop MycoDent, the commercialization of Arany’s 3D-printed dentures that combats denture-related stomatitis — fungal infections affecting nearly two-thirds of the U.S. denture-wearing population that cause inflammation, redness and swelling in the mouth.
MycoDent is a specially formulated biomaterial that contains unique microspheres that can be filled with antifungal medication. The microspheres are designed to protect the drug during the heat printing process and allow the release of medication as they gradually degrade.
The product can be combined with acrylamide, the current go-to material for dentures, to create antifungal dentures through 3D printing or relining traditional dentures.
MycoDent will enter the dental biomaterials market, which was worth more than $66 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow 14 percent by 2020, says Chan.
Unlike current treatment options, such as antiseptic mouthwashes, baking soda and microwave disinfection, dentures containing MycoDent could help prevent infection while the dentures are in use. 3D-printed dentures also allow clinicians to rapidly create customized dentures chair-side, a vast improvement over conventional manufacturing that can vary from a few days to weeks.
Edward Bednarczyk, clinical associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, and Sebastiano Ciancio, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Periodontics and Endodontics, serve as scientific advisers to the company. Former UB professor of strategy and entrepreneurship Yong Li is an adviser as well.
Other team members include UB alums Steve Panaro, Derek Cadwallader, Robert Bachellor and Michael Hacker, who lead production, engineering, business development and finance, respectively.