MIT's Robert Langer turned out to be a pretty mellow guy

After years of writing about companies with technology that stemmed from the mind of legendary MIT professor Robert Langer, I finally got to chat with him on the phone.

I scheduled a telephone interview to follow-up on two drug-delivery focused companies he helped found that recently made news: Kala Pharma and MicroCHIPS.

During our conversation, he came close to revealing news of a different sort. Langer strongly hinted that another startup based on his ideas--BIND Biosciences--is about to generate some serious buzz with soon-to-be-released clinical trial news.

"There is another big paper coming out in a couple of weeks that will create a lot of attention from BIND Biosciences," Langer explained, noting that the paper elaborates on results from the company's first Phase I clinical trial of its technology.

He declined to discuss details, but BIND, a Fierce 15 company in 2008, launched a Phase I clinical trial in 2010 of BIND-014, enrolling 30 patients. The anti-cancer drug blends docetaxel with the company's proprietary polymers to create an enhanced, controlled-release payload that carries the drug to a precise target before releasing it. BIND's compound previously generated some attention in preclinical studies by delivering up to 20 times more docetaxel than a similar dose of Taxotere (docetaxel is the active ingredient) on its own.

The news is just the latest in a long career that began when Langer was a researcher at Children's Hospital Boston in 1974. Since then, he and his technological innovations have helped launch 27 companies (How many people create even one company?). To date, Langer told me, he is responsible for 810 patents either issued or pending, focused on ideas that have helped change, or are transforming, drug-delivery, vaccine and medical-device technology.

Companies with Langer-centered technology seem to raise steady amounts of cash, even in today's tough market. In recent months, for example, BIND, and Selecta Biosciences (nanoparticles)--also co-founded by Langer--each secured $47.5 million in financing from the multi-billion-dollar Russian government fund RusNano. Kala, which is developing treatments designed to reach mucosal organs, just snagged $6.2 million in financing.

But Langer is low-key about those and his many other scientific breakthroughs that have or are counted on to become business successes.

"I have been fortunate to work with some very good businesspeople," he said. "I am an inventor, closer to a scientist, but I have definitely not been a businessman."

He also seems immensely excited about the progress his latest inventions are making. In mid-February, for example, MicroCHIPS announced news that its coin-size device, an implantable drug-delivery microchip, worked as intended in 7 of 8 women in an initial human clinical trial, delivering an osteoporosis hormone drug according to its programming and on schedule, without premature leaking. Langer and fellow MIT researcher Michael Cima invented the technology, and Langer seems like he can barely wait for the next research milestone.

"It is game-changing," he said. "Using that kind of technology to make a really smart delivery system that you can externally regulate, almost like (in) Star Trek."

Langer additionally downplayed his involvement with Kala Pharma, almost seeming embarrassed to be asked about it. He deferred instead to Justin Hanes of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, a co-founder who developed some of the core intellectual property.

"Justin Hanes was my student," he said. "When he was at MIT, he did the initial work on the drug delivery" technology. "And then he went to Hopkins and asked if I would help him ... try to further development.

"He was a great student," Langer added, "and now is a great professor."

Langer, to me at least, was kind--genteel even--and unexpectedly low-key in the face of some pretty stunning work. -- Mark Hollmer (Email | Twitter)