Japanese firm buys Altea's assets, plans to launch transdermal tech

The PassPort system uses an electronic pulse to force the skin to accept larger-molecule drugs than possible with other patches--courtesy of Nitto Denko

Back in 2009, Altea Therapeutics was hoping deals with Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Amylin ($AMLYN) would help it bring its transdermal delivery patch, PassPort, to market. That didn't go as planned, however, and in 2011 the Atlanta-based company ran out of capital and shut its doors.

Now, Japanese materials manufacturer Nitto Denko has acquired all of Altea's patents, trademarks and lab equipment, planning to use the company's transdermal technology to launch the patch on its own. Nitto didn't disclose the terms of the deal, but the company said Altea's technology will help it expand the range of transdermal delivery options it offers. The company already has patches on the market for asthma and angina, but they can only deliver small-molecule drugs because the skin only absorbs treatments that are lipid-soluable.

That's where PassPort is different. Altea's former technology involves administering a painless energy pulse to the patch once it's on the skin, conditioning the outer layer to allow water-soluable and larger-molecule compounds--like peptides and proteins--to get in and be effective. And the system can be optimized to administer different amounts according to the drug in question, allowing injection-speed delivery or a slow drip.

Much like Altea before it, Nitto Denko believes PassPort can carve out a market share as needle-free treatments gain popularity around the world. Unlike Altea, though, the Japanese firm is no startup: Nitto Denko's transdermal asthma and angina treatments have the highest global market share among drugs of their type, the company said, and it pulls in annual sales in the billions of dollars.

- read Nitto Denko's release