Dow Chemical's Down-Under Investment Has Upside Potential

I am pretty sure that most Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) investors are not investing in the company because they are excited about the long-term potential of nanotechnology. But I'd like to bring to their attention a small nanotech deal that took place last week which could have a positive impact on the company's bottom line over the next few years.

Last week, it was announced that Starpharma, a small Australian-based nanotechnology company, had acquired a U.S.-based nanotechnology start-up, Dendritic Nanotechnologies (DNT). As part of the deal, Dow Chemical, which already owned a stake in DNT, was granted an 8.6% equity stake in Starpharma.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. To begin, Starpharma is the first nanotech company in the world to have an Investigational New Drug (IND) application allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a dendrimer-based pharmaceutical product.

Dendrimers are tiny nanometer-sized synthetic devices that can be grown with almost any number of branches. These branches, in turn, can be tailored to hold individual molecules. Due to this unique characteristic and their miniscule size, it is possible that the dendrimers could make an ideal drug delivery platform because they are small enough to penetrate individual cancer cells and because they are capable of carrying different drug molecules as well as an imagine agent. The latter combination suggests that in the near future a single device could both detect and treat cancer, as well as a host of other diseases.

Starpharma's dendrimers have generated so much enthusiasm that the U.S. National Institute of Health has provided $20 million to the Australian company because it is so excited about the potential its dendrimers have shown in preventing HIV/AIDS in early human trials. (The money will help fund Phase II FDA clinical trials.)

In a similar, albeit smaller, deal, in late September, DNT also received an $850,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop its dendrimers to create a new generation of targeted diagnostic and therapeutic delivery technology for the early detection and treatment of epithelial ovarian cancer.

The good news for Dow investors doesn't stop there, however. As a result of the Starpharma-DNT deal, Starpharma now owns the largest patent portfolio in the field of dendrimers in the world.

One of the more important of these patents pertains to a new dendrimer called the Priostar dendrimer. The Priostar is significant because it can be manufactured to a higher level of specification (it has more branches) in a shorter amount of time, and at a fraction of the cost of existing dendrimers.

By improving the performance and lowering the cost, suddenly these dendrimers have a number of applications in addition to serving as drug delivery devices. They can be used to deliver cosmetic lotions to the desired depth in the skin; they can make vitamins more solvent (and thus more potent); and they even have a myriad of industrial applications in the fields of plastics and coatings.

Just a day before the acquisition, I had a conversation with the CEO of DNT, Dr. Robert Berry, and he told me his company had shipped samples of the new Priostar dendrimers to a number of "major commercial companies" for testing. He further informed me that at least one of those companies was close to signing a commercial licensing agreement. (He was optimistic about the others, but indicated that they had not been in possession of the dendrimers long enough to make an adequate assessment of their practicality.)

Now, I don't know whether the company in question is a cosmetic giant such as L'Oreal or Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) , or a major chemical company along the lines of BASF (NYSE: BF  ) , all of whom are actively involved in nanotechnology and would make logical choices. But I encourage investors to keep their eyes open for words of this agreement, because such a licensing deal could represent a nice revenue stream for Dow Chemical investors. And longer-term, dendrimers' potential as a drug delivery platform for any number of pharmaceutical products could represent an even larger revenue stream.

Interested in other nanotech-related foolishness? Check out these articles:

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He owns stock in Starpharma.The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.


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