The OZ-Link team includes (left to right): Professor M.G. Finn, Wenting Shi, Kasie Collins, Jasmine Hwang, and Steve Seo. 

For many patients battling a disease, or trying to prevent one, the best treatment option is controlled drug delivery.

In those cases, a delivery system must bind with the drug and then release it precisely where and when it will be most effective. However, the same system doesn’t work for every drug — for example, the methods used for capturing and releasing a small-molecule medication won’t work if you want to deliver a biologic drug.

That’s where OZ-Link hopes to make a significant impact.

“What’s unique about our technology is that, whether the carrier system is an antibody, nanoparticle, polymer, or hydrogel, it connects to whatever the drug is,” said Kasie Collins, CEO and co-founder of OZ-Link, a startup company growing in the lab of Georgia Tech researcher M.G. Finn, professor, chair, and James A. Carlos Family Chair for Pediatric Technology in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Our technology is designed to be compatible with both small molecules and biologics.”

The early-stage company is working to demonstrate that its system can provide sustained, extended release in ways that can be varied from days to weeks. Small-molecule drugs (the most common drugs on the market) and biologics (the fastest emerging class of drugs) can both benefit from this type of delivery, but in different ways and over different time frames, depending on the target.

Currently, there is nothing on the market capable of doing that effectively, and drug manufacturers large and small are intrigued by the notion of such precise biocompatible delivery. Based on the feedback that OZ-Link has received from its potential client base, the company is at work now on its next phase of research and development.

“We’re in the process of developing our first preclinical prototype, featuring our programmable drug delivery system for the extended release of protein therapeutics,” said Collins, whose team has entered a new partnership that will help the fledgling company focus on developing its technology.

OZ-Link was notified recently that it had been selected for commercialization support and funding through the Biolocity Fund for 2023-24. Biolocity, based in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, is a philanthropic program that supports early-stage medical technologies from both campuses.

In addition to CEO Collins, OZ-Link’s founding leadership team includes Steve Seo, chief operating officer; Jasmine Hwang, chief scientific officer; and Wenting Shi, a Ph.D. candidate whose dissertation research plays a critical role in the further development of the Oz-Link technology. All are members or affiliates of the Finn lab.

They recently participated in Biolocity U, a program that provides business and legal counseling, lectures, internship opportunities, and other tools for startups. After making a final pitch, they were selected for funding.

“We had just finished doing customer discovery at a local conference when we got the news about Biolocity, which was so important. It allows us to do critical feasibility studies, which are necessary for follow-on funding efforts,” Collins said. “Additionally, it allows the team to work on OZ-Link research and development full time.”

The company also was part of the inaugural cohort that completed the Nucleate Activator program in Atlanta last semester. This program supports next generation bioentrepreneurs with mentorship, workshops, networking, and a pitch competition. OZ-Link won the Regional High Impact Culture Award, which recognizes cutting-edge scientific ideas with the greatest positive impact on society.

The foundation of the company is right there in its name, which comes from the chemical structures in OZ-Link’s technology: ozanorbornadiene (also called OND) and azanorbornadiene (ZND) molecules. “We use this small-molecule technology as a means of linking the therapeutic cargo to a drug delivery system,” Collins said.

The company is in the process of developing its first viable product, which would deliver injectable protein drugs. But that’s just the beginning.

“The technology is at a nascent stage now, but our feasibility data will help us secure co-development partnerships down the road,” Collins said. “Such partnerships would give us an opportunity to broaden our scope and demonstrate that we can deliver different types of drugs in an efficient, programmable manner.”