In 2020, Pfizer and Moderna commercialized the first mRNA vaccines distributed nationwide to protect against COVID-19. To create this groundbreaking vaccine, engineers and scientists used lipid nanoparticles, or LNPs, for the safe delivery of mRNA to cells. This isn’t the first time nanotechnology has been used in the medical field. The miracle of lipid nanoparticles has been used for cancer therapy, vaccine production and targeted drug delivery and therapy.
However, creating these nanoparticles is quite difficult. The current microfabrication process is tedious and doesn’t always yield the right kind of nanoparticle. This problem is what Sophie Lin, B.S. ChE ’18; Ph.D. ChE ’22, and Brian Feng, B.S BME ’18; M.S. ME ’18, set out to solve.
Their startup, OSEM, has developed a 3D fluidic design that produces nanoparticles more accurately, efficiently and faster. These nanoparticles can be used for the creation of targeted drug delivery and cancer treatments as well as mRNA vaccines.
OSEM recently won the 2023 LA Nucleate Pitch Competition, taking home the $2,500 grand prize. The company has also done well at several other business competitions. One of these was the ATHENA Women’s Pitch Competition, where OSEM took home the $10,000 Helena of Troy Award. The prize, which is designed to help female entrepreneurs with their discoveries, means a lot to Lin because of the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated business.
“The ATHENA competition is for female founders, and I find that extremely encouraging for me as a first time founder to see that there is growing support for us in this space that we are currently very underrepresented,” said Lin, a recent doctoral graduate of the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science .
OSEM also placed first in USC Viterbi’s Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, or MEPC, and finished in second place in the New Venture Seed Competition, a startup proposal competition hosted at USC Marshall Greif Center and funded by Sunstone Management, a private capital firm.
Lin’s idea for OSEM germinated during the pandemic when she and her and her Ph.D. team were asked to develop lipid nanoparticles for DNA transfection. During this period, Lin noticed an issue with the microfluidic devices used for producing these LNPs: the tools were at times unreliable and easy to break.
“The channels [on these microfluidic devices] are small so they get clogged easily and have a really delicate user interface that can easily be broken,” Lin said. “That’s when I decided I was going to have to develop something better for our collaborator.”
Lin then decided to bring Feng — currently a USC Viterbi Ph.D. candidate in materials science whose adviser is Professor Steve Nutt — onto OSEM as her chief technology officer and partner. She did so because of his in-depth knowledge of 3D printing and biomedical applications.
OSEM collaborates with USC Viterbi Professor Noah Malmstadt’s lab, which specializes in nanotechnology development and research. Lin and Malmstadt, a USC Viterbi professor of chemical engineering and materials science, initially met in 2017 when she worked in his lab as an undergraduate; he later became her doctoral adviser.
Malmstadt predicts great things for OSEM. “I’ve worked with several early-stage startups during my time as a professor at USC, and I think this is by far the most promising one,” he said. “I expect them to be quite successful.”
Published on July 21st, 2023
Last updated on July 21st, 2023