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Desire to innovate

Even while pursuing his doctorate, biologist Marcos Valadares opened companies that produce stem cells and genetic tests

Carreiras_PerfilPhoto personal archiveThe desire to transcend a traditional academic career and invest in the challenge of transforming knowledge acquired in college is a viable business model. It led Minas Gerais native Marcos Valadares, who was 27 at the time, to establish Pluricell Biotech, a startup that produces and sells induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS). These are mature cells that can be reprogrammed to once again become capable of generating different tissues in the organism.

As Valadares himself says, the idea came about from an invitation from his colleague and future partner, Diogo Biagi, also a biologist, who at the time was working on developing a technique capable of converting adult cells from any tissue into induced stem cells. Also during his doctoral studies, with geneticist Mayana Zatz as his advisor at the Institute of Biosciences of the University of São Paulo (IB/USP), Valadares teamed up with Biagi and physician Alexandre Pereira to open the firm. At first, the lack of a business and administrative vision hampered the work of canvassing and sizing up possible clients and preparing a business plan.

In 2013 the company obtained funding from FAPESP through the Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE). “With the investment, we were able to convert our idea into a profitable reality,” he says. “This was important, since about 90% of the material we use to produce this type of cell, as well as the reagents used in the cell differentiation process, is imported from the United States and Europe.” The PIPE grant also enabled Valadares to expand his business vision during a stint in England, where he enrolled in a course offered by the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships Program of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) in London and Oxford.

Pluricell Biotech is housed in the incubator at the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology (Cietec) in São Paulo. According to Valadares, the startup is currently producing stem cells that change into heart cells and can later be used for in vitro testing of molecules that are candidates for drugs—a market that is beginning to take shape in Brazil. In addition, a few batches have already been produced for research groups at the Brazilian Biosciences National Laboratory (LNBio) in Campinas in interior São Paulo State and at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp). More recently, the company began investing in the production of skin stem cells, generally used to develop products for the cosmetics industry.

In another business venture, Valadares founded a new company to develop genetic tests. For example, one of the tests is used to identify abnormalities in genes associated with recessive diseases, such as some muscular dystrophies, in couples who plan to have children. “We import the technology, make the tests and sell them to laboratories and clinics in Brazil at a more accessible price,” Valadares explains. “We are working to develop these tests in Brazil to lower the cost even more.”