In search of the ideal partner

Uniemp Institute creates agency to speed up the production of new drugs

The great majority of Brazilian drug and medicine companies are medium in size and well capitalized, but they invest little in research capable of generating any radical innovation. They work basically with generics and in improving products whose patents have expired. The investigations carried out at the universities and research institutes can offer Brazilian companies alternatives for innovation.

The Pharmaceutical Management and Innovation Agency (Agif) is betting on drawing these two sectors closer together. “We have groups of excellence at the research institutes investigating interesting molecules that need to be transformed into innovation and be put onto the market”, says Saul d’âvila, Agif’s coordinator.Created in 2002 as a thematic nucleus of the Permanent Forum of University and Company Relations – the Uniemp Institute, Agif is seeking to establish a communication channel between the academic and industrial worlds, to identify opportunities for pharmaceutical innovations, to advise researchers in technology transfer or patent registration processes, amongst others.

The first project run by Agif was to develop Evasins, a molecular prototype that will be used in producing a drug with antihypertensive properties. The new product was identified by the Applied Toxinology Center (CAT), at the Butantan Institute – one of the ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids) sponsored by FAPESP – and is being developed by the National Pharmaceutical Consortium (Coinfarma), made up by the laboratories Biolab-Sanus, Biosintética, and União Química. The project now has two patents with the participation of the manufacturers.

“We identified the genes that produced the molecule, we found that some of them had antihypertensive properties, and that we could go into a market niche that has great potential. But we knew little about Law and Intellectual Property”, recalls Antonio Martins de Camargo, a director of the CAT and of Agif. “That was when we thought of creating an agency to support researchers and to draw them closer to companies interested in the product”, he says.

Agif is also prospecting the market for projects like the one for the medicine called Lovap, an antithrombotic; a diagnostic kit for marking disintegrins that have the potential for becoming a marker of tumor cells; besides an ACE marker in those with high blood pressure.Another bottleneck in the process for developing new drugs is their preclinical testing. “Brazil now has teams qualified to carry out clinical examinations with strict protocols, but there is a lack of laboratories for the pre-clinical tests”, Camargo explains.

To overcome this lack, Agif decided to organize a laboratory that is going to outsource the type of test that is fundamental for verifying the safety and the formulation of medicines. “The new laboratory – baptized as Lachesis – will be a Contract Research Organization (CRO), that is, a center of pre-clinical investigation for pharmaceutical research”, says d’Ávila. The laboratory will have the support of the Ministry of Health, R$ 3 million from the World Bank (IBRD) and will be installed in the Institute of Nuclear Energy and Research (Ipen).