Sharklet Technologies: Nature Has the Answer

For the 2 million people that suffer from hospital acquired infections every year, and the resulting 100,000 deaths, a micro texture that reduces bacteria growth & transfer, inspired by the properties of shark skin, might just be the solution. Sharklet Technologies, a Larta NIH-CAP participant, who recently received $2M in funding from Altria Ventures, has developed a proprietary surface texture design that inhibits bacterial growth, with applications ranging from medical devices to consumer products. Sharklet CEO, Mark Spiecker tells us, “We initially started on this track to develop a surface that would prevent algae from attaching to the surface of the boats for the Navy. Funded by the Office of Naval Research, Dr. Brennan, the founder of the company, was working on this problem. He was inspired by sharks that violate the rule of the ocean. They are the only slow moving animals that do not get fouled by any kind of growth, and are able to stay clean. Intrigued, and with his training as a materials scientist, he thought the answer lay in the shape of the shark’s skin.” Mark went on to tell us that on further exploration, that was indeed the answer. The micro pattern on shark skin reduces the survival, colonization and transfer of bacteria on surfaces, with the same results when replicated on other materials. After patenting this discovery at the University of Florida, Dr. Brennan formed Sharklet and licensed the technology in 2007. They spent the next 2 years focusing on manufacturing, taking the technology, scaling it up and replicating it on a wide variety of products such as medical devices. Simultaneously, they received a Phase I SBIR grant to develop this surface for application on a urinary catheter, one of the biggest need areas for microbial protection, which was followed by a phase II grant.

Looking back on the company’s journey, Mark recounted the big milestones for Sharklet. After licensing the technology and forming the company, and the SBIR funding support, the company had a successful series A funding round in 2009. This was followed by their first big licensing agreement with Cook Medical, to license their urological products. They recently announced a successful series B funding, and currently have a number of joint development agreements with several large companies. For 2012, they will be near break even as a company, a significant achievement for a start-up. Three years from now, Mark is hoping to do another investment round.

The commercial applications of the micro texture technology developed by Sharklet range across industries, and can potentially be used on any surface to prevent microbial growth. The company has primarily focused on applications for medical devices, but plans to use the Series B funding to expand into consumer products such as furniture, among other high touch products, and bring projects in development to fruition. Speaking to the future commercial goals of the company, Mark told us “For the next couple of years, we’re going to be focusing on developing products with reduced bacterial growth surfaces, but the long term future of the company will get into developing patterns for specific applications, where maybe you want human cells to grow in a certain way, or grow faster on your technology. For example, you may want to design an orthopedic implant with a surface that helps the skin bond to that implant, while simultaneously controlling bacteria growth on it. I’d call tissue engineering, or the ability of texture to control the growth of human cells in a certain way in the body, a definite area of future interest for applications of our technology.”

With the company set to launch a medical device product, and a consumer product by the end of 2013, Sharklet is sure to be a company to watch for.