UC San Diego alum Michael Benchimol is working to make chemotherapy more effective.
Identify a real-world problem. Engineer a solution. And, if the solution works, figure out how it can be commercially viable. That’s what Michael Benchimol said he learned over seven years of working in the laboratory of Sadik Esener, a professor in the departments of nanoengineering and electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, San Diego. In Benchimol’s (Ph.D., electrical engineering, ’12) case, it specifically means building a company to advance a targeted drug delivery platform that could make chemotherapy more effective and less toxic to the healthy tissue in the body.
“I like to build things. That’s the engineering side of me,” said Benchimol, who also earned a master’s in electrical engineering at UC San Diego in 2008. “Creating a company was just a different form of creating something from nothing. I always had that interest and I saw that there was an opportunity here.”
The opportunity is a method of delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to cancerous tumors in the body, a longtime goal of next-generation cancer therapy research due to the toxic effects the drugs can have on the rest of the body. The field is enjoying a research heyday in part thanks to advances specifically in the area of nanotechnology. Benchimol says nanotechnology is enabling cancer researchers to leverage the best properties of cancer drugs and biocompatible materials, in a single therapy that can circulate undetected by the body’s immune system.
His company, Sonrgy, recently entered an exclusive licensing agreement with UC San Diego to further develop the company’s technology, which resulted from his Ph.D. and postdoctoral research at the Jacobs School of Engineering and UCSD Moores Cancer Center, where Esener, also directs the NanoTumor Center. Benchimol’s solution is unique in that it doesn’t rely on “tumor receptors” that the nanoparticle can seek out and “stick to” before releasing the drug. Rather, the Sonrgy platform, called SonRx, uses nanocarriers smaller than human cells that carry chemotherapy drugs through the body where they can be released at the tumor site by a doctor deploying ultrasound. The technology is in the preclinical stage.
“The SonRx technology addresses longstanding challenges related to stability and controlled release in nano-scale drug delivery,” said Michael Benchimol, who is Sonrgy’s chief technology officer, in a company statement about the licensing agreement.