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Need a whiff of energy? Cambridge-based Breathable Foods is getting ready to launch inhalable caffeine shots

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 16, 2011 04:00 PM

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Two Boston-area venture capital firms are getting behind a Wonka-esque concept: that instead of sipping coffee or nibbling on a chocolate bar, consumers might prefer to take a hearty huff. Breathable Foods, based in Cambridge, recently raised $8.5 million from Flagship Ventures and Polaris Venture Partners, and it is planning to launch its first product, AeroShot Pure Energy, in the U.S. early next year.

The company was founded by David Edwards, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard who earlier in his career was involved with Advanced Inhalation Research, a start-up that worked on turning drugs like human growth hormone into powders that could be inhaled, rather than injected. (That business is now known as Civitas.) Another Edwards company, Pulmatrix, is developing inhalable drugs to fight respiratory infections.

AeroShots will cost $2.99, and they contain a blend of caffeine, Vitamin B, natural sweeteners like Stevia, and natural lime flavor, all distilled into tiny particles that are about 10 microns in size. (At that size, they dissolve in your mouth and are swallowed, rather than entering your lungs, the company says.) Each lipstick tube-sized inhaler contains between 4 and 6 puffs. You can use it a puff at a time, or all at once if you're feeling especially dilapidated. One AeroShot contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine — roughly the same as an average cup of coffee.

Breathable Foods will also market another product Edwards developed and launched in 2009: Le Whif, a calorie-free chocolate inhaler. Edwards tells me that without much marketing, 400,000 Le Whifs were sold in 2010, mainly to women. Another product in development is Le Whaf. "It's a carafe that you can pour a liquid like orange juice or a martini into, and it forms a cloud of flavor that you can put into a glass, and sip out with a straw," Edwards explains. "When you use it with something like whiskey, it gives you the essence of the experience, while the alcohol content is small."

Edwards says the company will be developing other products that can deliver flavor without calories, or nutritional supplements without having to pop a pill. Edwards says that Breathable Foods' products are intended to appeal to people "interested in the new."

Noubar Afeyan, managing director at Flagship Ventures in Cambridge, says that his firm invested in Breathable Foods because "we think that the platform could be used to deliver nutrients and health-related products" in a convenient way — and in a product that isn't stringently regulated by the FDA, as are many of the biotech and pharma companies Flagship usually backs. (The FDA considers Breathable Foods' products to be GRAS substances, or things "generally regarded as safe.")

Terry McGuire of Polaris calls Breathable Foods "a novel approach to an enormous industry... Proof that we as venture capitalists should always be on the frontier of where science meets life." His firm is also invested in Living Proof, perhaps the only MIT spin-out company, ever, to make hair care products.

I just got a few AeroShot samples delivered to my office; I'm planning to try one tomorrow morning instead of my morning cup of coffee. I'll let you know how it goes...

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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