News & Events

Imbedded chips track drug doses, health shifts

By Scott Kirsner, Globe Correspondent  |  January 11, 2010

Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog. For the full blog, updated daily, visit

Money for a medical chip maker

Investors last week handed another $16.5 million to MicroCHIPS, the Bedford start-up that has spent more than a decade working on an implantable medical device capable of delivering drugs inside the body or sensing changes in disease states.

California’s InterWest Partners is a new participant in this round, joining the Bay State firms Polaris Venture Partners and Flybridge Capital Partners, and corporate investors like Novartis and Medtronic.

The company’s total funding is now “just over $70 million,’’ founder and chief executive John Santini said.

Since it was spun out of an MIT lab in 1999, MicroCHIPS has been chasing a futuristic vision: Use implanted chips with tiny reservoirs on their surface to dispense drugs over time, or to expose sensors to the body’s chemistry – and allow doctors or patients to monitor and control the chips wirelessly.

The additional funding will help support clinical trials – the company’s first in humans – for diabetes and osteoporosis.

Santini said some of the money MicroCHIPS has raised is going toward a joint venture: a new company it created in collaboration with InterWest called On Demand Therapeutics, based in the San Francisco area and led by Naveed Shams, a former executive at Genentech and OPKO Health.

The ultra-stealthy On Demand, which will focus on delivering drugs to the eye, was formed last year but does not have a website.

Santini said the diabetes trial will involve a MicroCHIPS device that can track glucose levels in blood – no needle pokes required – and report the data wirelessly to a hand-held monitor. It will be able to operate for about a year.

The osteoporosis trial will deliver parathyroid hormone to the spine to help grow bone.

In both trials, the device will be implanted in an outpatient procedure, using a local anesthetic.

Eventually, Santini said, the company hopes to test devices that combine sensing capability with the ability to deliver doses of a drug, but for now those functions are separate.

The ‘anywhere’ revolution

In 1999, when sharp-tongued soothsayer Howard Anderson departed from Yankee Group, the Boston research firm began receding into irrelevance.

Anderson had sold Yankee to a publicly traded company in 1996, and he started to focus more on early-stage investing with his new firm, YankeeTek Ventures.

Yankee wasn’t much of a player in technology forecasting when it was sold again, in 2005, to the Boston private equity firm Alta Communications. Helping to lead that acquisition was Emily Nagle Green, a former executive at Forrester Research and former chief executive of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

As chief executive, Green applied the defibrillator paddles to Yankee when she arrived in 2005.

She got the analysts blogging, and focused the firm on the idea of “anywhere’’ connectivity.

Instead of looking at technology through the lenses of software, services, data center gear, or telecom switches, Green pushed Yankee to envision a world where just about all consumers, businesspeople, and devices are constantly connected – and talk about the ways companies today are (and are not) moving successfully toward that world.

Locally, Green has made a big imprint on the tech community, bringing fresh ideas to the board of directors at MITX and taking a leadership role with the state’s well-intentioned Innovate MassTech initiative.

This month, Green’s first book is out. It’s titled “Anywhere: How Global Connectivity is Revolutionizing the Way We Do Business.’’

Not bad timing: the Consumer Electronic Show took place in Vegas last week. Google just unveiled its first mobile phone. And Apple is expected to unveil a tablet computer this month.

“Anywhere’’ collects viewpoints from Bostonians who’ve been thinking about the effect of pervasive connectivity, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s chief information officer, John Halamka, venture capitalist and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe, Ambient Devices founder David Rose, Maven Networks founder Hilmi Ozguc, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, entrepreneur Vanu Bose, and Akamai chief executive Paul Sagan.

I asked Green to highlight one of the counterintuitive ideas from the book – aside from the notion that we all will be linked to the network through all kinds of new devices.

Green said the old notion of a product being finished when it is sent to a customer is becoming obsolete. “Anywhere’’ products evolve over time, thanks to software updates sent wirelessly.

“Think about the Roku box,’’ she said, mentioning a set-top box that can stream movies from Netflix. “That can get smarter over time, because it has a persistent connection to the Roku people.

“That’s a wake-up call for enterprises, which need to ask, ‘How do my products continue to evolve, and what are all the new paths I have to reach the consumer through all of these devices?’ whether it’s the Roku box or the Chumby or a connected blood pressure monitor.’’

Green’s new book is a major marker that Yankee Group, founded in 1970, is now a reinvigorated player on the technology forecasting landscape.