Innovation Economy

Semprus BioSciences lands another $18m

David Lucchino is CEO of Semprus; it has raised $28.5 million. David Lucchino is CEO of Semprus; it has raised $28.5 million. (Justin Knight of Justin Knight Photography)
By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / December 13, 2010

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Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

Investors are handing an additional $18 million to Semprus BioSciences Corp., of Cambridge, making it one of the area’s biggest medical device investments of the year. Semprus is developing a process to make implantable devices more resistant to bacterial infection over a long period of time; such infections cause more than 50,000 deaths a year, chief executive David Lucchino says.

The funding round is led by SR One, the corporate venture capital fund of GlaxoSmithKline PLC, and Foundation Medical Partners, of Connecticut.

Semprus has now raised $28.5 million in total.

Semprus’s technology has its roots in the Langer Lab at MIT; Lucchino says he learned of it while earning his MBA at the school, when professor Bob Langer introduced him to Chris Loose, one of the PhD students working in the lab. Loose now serves as Semprus’s chief technology officer.

Semprus says it can add a specially bonded layer to medical devices — such as catheters used for kidney dialysis and bone implants — to prevent clotting and fend off bacteria and fungus.

“It’s not a coating, but a physical extension of the device itself,’’ Lucchino says, “which means it lasts much longer than any coating could.’’

Lucchino says the company has collected data showing the process reduces clotting and bacteria adhesion for at least three months. The surface Semprus adds could also be used for delivering drugs or agents that promote bone or tissue growth, he says.

The company has 27 employees. It expects the new round of financing to be enough to carry it through the Food and Drug Administration approval process.

Lucchino is related to another local executive: His uncle Larry runs the Boston Red Sox.

Seeing below the surface NinePoint Medical Inc., a Cambridge start-up working on new imaging technology for gastrointestinal procedures, is unveiling the largest licensing agreement that Massachusetts General Hospital has been part of in the medical device arena.

NinePoint is licensing 188 patents and patent applications from Mass. General, but financial terms are not being disclosed. Earlier this year, the company raised $33 million in first-round funding from Third Rock Ventures in Boston and Prospect Venture Partners in California.

Chief executive Charles Carignan says the company is developing a device that will use infrared laser light to create a three-dimensional image of the esophagus, including areas beneath the surface that may be potentially cancerous.

“Think about looking through a camera at a building,’’ Carignan says. “You can see the wall, but you can’t see inside. With our technology, you’ll be able to see inside the building, past the wall.’’

Eventually, the company plans to be able to transmit its imagery in real time to an offsite pathologist, who might recommend a biopsy, or even immediately diagnose a condition like reflux disease or Barrett’s esophagus.

NinePoint has a dozen employees in Cambridge, though Carignan expects its headcount to reach 40 by next year.

RFID sector consolidation Remember RFID tags? They were going to be on everything.

Radio-frequency identification was one of the biggest areas of promise and hype after the dot-com era. MIT’s Auto-ID Center was formed to proselytize about the Internet of things, the notion that products ought to be trackable and readily identifiable as they zoom through the global supply chain, and that RFID tags would replace the stodgy old UPC code.

The arrival of RFID, like every other heralded revolution, has been happening more slowly than expected. And some of the more promising start-ups (including two spun out of MIT’s early research in RFID) have been gobbled up by larger players for undisclosed amounts. ThingMagic raised about $30 million and was acquired in October by Trimble. OATSystems raised about $25 million and was bought by CheckPoint Systems two years ago, for who knows how much. Recently, another acquisition closed: ODIN Technologies Inc., a small Virginia firm that sells RFID-related software and services, is buying Reva SystemsCorp. in Westford — once more, for an undisclosed sum. Reva had raised about $35 million in funding, much of it from North Bridge, Charles River Ventures, and Cisco.

Patrick J. Sweeney II, ODIN’s founder, says Reva will become his firm’s Massachusetts office, and he will retain about 10 members of Reva’s technology team. While Bruce Berger, Reva’s chief executive installed just last year, will not stay after the acquisition, Sweeney says cofounder Ashley Stephenson and technology vice president Scott Barvick will stay. Sweeney also plans to hire more engineers (Java developers specifically) in Massachusetts.

Sweeney says ODIN primarily puts together RFID systems for clients in health care, government, and financial services. He found Reva appealing for the real-time location system it developed using inexpensive, “passive’’ RFID tags, which don’t require a battery.

Sweeney, originally from Belmont, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of New Hampshire and started ODIN in 2002.

Its acquisition of Reva is “a mostly stock deal, with a little bit of cash,’’ Sweeney says.

He declined to say how much he’s paying.

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