Golden age for hydrogels?

Materials you now see in contact lenses have far more importance than you realize.

Covalon denatured collagen dressing using hydrogelsHydrogels are familiar to anyone in medicine.

My daughter wears hydrogel contact lenses. They're also used in breast implants, for dressing wounds, even as miniature glucose sensors.

But they are only just coming into their own, as drug delivery mechanisms.

Covalon Technologies Ltd. of Canada holds the patent on this, granted in 2001 under its previous name of UroTeq. This week, it won the Canadian patent as well. (The illustration is from Covalon, showing hydrogels applied as wound dressings.)

Covalon is still run by one of the patent holders, Valerio DiTizio, who holds the title of chief scientific officer. The board was recently bulked-up with an experienced entrepreneur and a former government official.

The company's present products involve wound dressings and for coating things like urinary catheters with antibiotics.

The stock price shot up in early 2007, from just over 50 cents to $3, but it hasn't fallen much since.

Why the sudden excitement? Nanotechnology. Hydrogels can be engineered to deliver what you want, where you want it, at the rate you want it.

Once you start thinking about producing nano-scale hydrogels, with nano-scale drug loads, you've got a whole new ballgame.

Suddenly you can use them against cancer, delivering radiation, or chemotherapy. By gaining a patent now in Canada, Covalon gives itself protection which lasts even after the U.S. patent expires late in the next decade.

Whether Covalon's patent rights will make it the big winner here isn't the issue. The issue is that the materials you now see in contact lenses have far more importance than you realize.

And that may be true for other chemical substances as well.