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In one year, Unicamp closes contracts with companies for the licensing of twenty-six (26) patents

Children transported in cars with greater safety and a new method for testing for congenital deafness in recently born children are some of the new products ready reach  to the market that have originated from research projects at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). In order to come out of the laboratories, the discoveries had to pass through the watchful eye of the university’s Innovation Agency (Inova), which, during only one year of operation, has managed to close thirteen  licensing contracts with companies for the commercial exploration of twenty six patents. As well as the contracts already signed, some for a period of more than ten years, a further seventeen are in the state of negotiations. Each one of them should generate, on average, R$ 200,000.00 per year for the university as soon as the companies begin to sell their products, according to projections that have been made by Inova. The results obtained by the agency in such a short period of time have beaten, considerably, the initial goal of licensing ten (10) patents per year. In order to have an idea of what these numbers represent, it is enough to reflect on the past. Before the creation of the agency only four (4)  licensing contracts, referring to six (6) patents, had been closed by Unicamp in ten years (see Pesquisa Fapesp nº 97).

Founded in July of 2003, the agency began to function effectively last October. “Initially we organized the patents into a data bank on the internet so that the companies could have access to these technological innovations”, says Rosana Di Ceron Giorgio, the director of Inova’s Intellectual Property Rights. “Only in January we began to approach the companies.”  The response to these visits was almost immediate. From January until July of 2004 nine contracts were signed for the licensing of patents. One of these refers to the new methodology for the diagnosis of genetic deafness, developed by professor Edi Lúcia Sartorato,  from Unicamp’s Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering Center (CBMEG), and was funded by FAPESP.

At the beginning of  November, the test was commercially launched by the company DLE – Diagnósticos Laboratoriais Especializados, from Rio de Janeiro, which specializes in examinations for newly born children. “The major difference with this methodology is that the test was adapted for a technique of  blood sample collection on a piece of filter paper, where the test is done on the baby’s foot. This is a major revolution for the process”, says the clinical pathologist Armando Fonseca, the company’s director general. Until now, the diagnosis of the illness was done through a normal blood test examination. “As we are dealing with a dry sample, it can be transported without refrigeration”, says Fonseca.

The test can be associated to the baby’s foot test, mandatory in Brazil to identify at least three types of  illnesses (hyperthyroidism, falciform anemia and phenylketonuria), or applied on its own to newlyborn and also to children and adults with deafness that has not a defined cause. “There is no cure for congenital deafness, but there is a world consensus that the diagnosis should be done up until the age of three months, with intervention up until six months, in order to guarantee a better quality of life for the child”, explains Edi. The genetic deafness test adapted for the baby’s foot costs around R$ 65,00 for the consumer, while the traditional one remains close to R$ 300,00. The project also resulted in a further patent  – a molecular diagnostic kit for congenital deafness -, negotiated by Inova with the company Feldmann Wild Leitz, from the Amazonia region.

Another technological innovation generated at the university, forecast to arrive on the market during this month of January, is a safety seat for cars with rear safety belt that can be set up for transporting children who are older than three years. This chair is manufactured by the company Safe Kid, belonging to Senator Canedo, from the state of Goiás. The idea is simple and practical. The small chair, described by the researchers as the retention plate, is fixed to the rear seat of the vehicle using the rear seat safety belt itself. In order to arrive at the new chair, which adapts itself to the anatomical shape of the child, professor Antônio Celso Arruda, from Unicamp’s Mechanical Engineering School College (FEM), who was the project’s coordinator, was able to count upon the collaboration of engineers, a pediatrician, an orthopedist and a psychologist.

“The safety chair attends to all of the requirements of the Brazilian Technical Norms Association (ABNT)”, says Peixoto Bueno de Camargo, the company’s commercial director. “It  is fireproof and also anti-allergic.”  When still in the prototype phase, the product was tested and approved in two tests: in a car collision with a truck at 50 Kilometers per hour and another against a rigid barrier under impact conditions greater than those demanded by the Brazilian traffic norm. Peixoto stresses that the equipment’s buckle always remained in the same position, even when the child was in movement, since tensing straps had been placed in both the areas of protection that go down around the arms and in the belt that passes around the pelvis region. As well as the question of safety, the chair’s price, set at around R$ 150,00, is highly attractive for this product, which as well as being launched on the national market should initially be exported to Argentina, Canada and Europe.

In another segment, that of phytotherapeutics, another patent has generated a product that is also ready to dispute market share. These are capsules of soya isoflavones, obtained through a new technique, for the treatment of hormonal replacement in women, manufactured by the company Steviafarma, from the city of  Maringá, in  the state of Paraná. The research that resulted in the patent, the first to be licensed by Inova, was conducted by professor Yong Kun Park, from the Foods Biochemistry Laboratory (FEA), and was funded by FAPESP. The extraction process converts the isoflavone glucosides of Soya into aglucons. This process normally occurs in the digestive tract when digestive enzymes produced by the intestinal microflora transform the isoflavone glucosides into aglucons that are absorbed by the organism. “The phytotherapeutic effect of isoflavone glucoside is already at the ideal concentration for absorption by the organism”, explains  Fernando Meneguetti, a director with the company that has as its leading product a natural sweetener extracted from the sweet honey tree plant (Stevia rebaudiana) .

In the same area of  healthcare, two new formulae for the consecrated active ingredients  used in anesthetics, developed at the Biology Institute, are being tested by the company Cristália Produtos Químicos e Farmacêuticos, a Brazilian laboratory with production units in the in the city of  São Paulo and in the town of Itapira, also in the state of São Paulo. “Changed used in pharmaceutical technology have resulted in formulae with innovative characteristics, such as lower toxicity, greater safety and a more lasting effect when compared to the products currently available”, says Roberto Debom Moreira, the company’s New Products Research and Development manager, who has in his portfolio more than one hundred and fifty (150) products. Since one is dealing with new technology, the pathway to be followed until the market place is reached is much longer. “The development and registration phase can well extend to between three and five years”, says manager Debom. The partnership between the company and the university began as soon as the research, coordinated by professor Eneida de Paula and with funding from FAPESP, was initiated. On being sought out by the Unicamp researchers, who were looking to obtain the principal active ingredient of the medicine to start up another project, Cristália glimpsed the possibility of an association in order to transform the research into a product, which has ended up materializing.

Still in the area of new formulae, this time applied to bio-material for coating stents, a device that is inserted into the veins or arteries during angioplasty surgery for unblocking blood vessels, six patents have been licensed to the company Scitech, of  Sao Paulo. The new formulae, that have as their raw material nitric oxide (NO), one of the smallest molecules produced by the human organism, possess anti-thrombosis, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferation properties, an activity that impedes cellular growth. The research, coordinated by professor Marcelo Ganzarolli de Oliveira, from the Chemistry Institute, received financial support from FAPESP.

Embryonic phase – Rosana underlines that more than 90% of the technological applications patented by the university need to be further developed within companies because they are then still in an embryonic research phase. For this reason, all of the contracts signed by Inova are composed of three documents: an agreement on the granting of intellectual property rights; an addendum setting out the product development (this phase is totally funded totally by the company) and a licensing contract. If during the development phase a new patent is generated, the intellectual property rights are split equally between Unicamp and the company. In the addendum it is forecast that, if at the end of the development phase it becomes evident that it is not technically viable to produce the patented product on a large scale, for technical or economic reasons, the company can break the contract. “However, if the conclusion is that the technology will be very successful on a large industrial scale the licensing contract immediately comes into effect”, says director Rosana. In this contract there is a forecast date for the company to begin manufacturing the product when the development phase has ended. And as well,  how the royalties will be paid to Unicamp, these varying between 2% and 10% of the selling price. “We always work from the point of view of making the business viable”, she says. For this reason the percentage royalty take is studied case by case. All of the judicial documentation is signed on the same day. “There is no point in waiting to see of the technology is highly successful when negotiating the royalties, because then you would not manage to negotiate any further.”

The final contracts signed deal with four innovations, two of them coming from the Food Technology Department (FEA) laboratories. One of them refers to a nutritional breakfast cereal based on a stewed mixture of the Brazil nut and cassava developed by professor Hilary Castle de Menezes and funded by FAPESP. The product, with low fat level because it does not make use of the nut oil, is rich in fibers, selenium, an element essential for the working of the brain, and vegetal proteins. The company chosen to produce the cereal was Ipixuna, from the town of  Porto Velho, in the state of Rondônia. The choice of the companies that are going to sign licensing agreements involves taking various criteria into consideration. In the case of the cereal, the locality, close to where Brazil nut trees are grown, won points when making the selection. The fact that the company had extrusion machinery, equipment necessary for the production process, was also a factor. “When the business goes well, everyone wins”, says Rosana. Analyzing company candidates is one of Inovas’s goals. The selection process occurs in various manners. At the start, a team from the agency goes out into the field to make contacts. “We reached a contact number of five hundred companies”, she goes on. “Currently, the demand is so high, as a function of the results, which we can hardly manage to get out of here any more.”

Another recently negotiated patent, also the fruit of research developed at FEA, is a drink fermented from a water soluble extract from soya composed of probiotic agents, which are live microorganisms, such as the bacteria of the genre Lactobacillus, and prebiotics (substrate for the probiotic agents, such as soluble fibrous food). “The product is a working foodstuff, which has multiple benefits since it can count upon a symbiosis between the microorganisms and the prebiotic component”, says Francisco Maugeri Filho, the research coordinator. “The effect is most immediate and efficient for maintaining the equilibrium of the intestinal flora.” Thus the organism benefits with a reduction of cholesterol and of triglycerides,  as well as the other advantages obtained with the microorganisms. The development of the drink, carried out by the company Proceedings, from Sao Paulo, and by FEA’s Bioprocesses Engineering Laboratory, is in the final phase.

The two other technological innovations are a new process for the manufacture of thermoplastic nanocompounds from interlocking clays, created at the Chemistry Institute under the supervision of professor Fernando Galembeck, and an identification system by radio frequency, known by the acronym RFID, Radio Frequency Identification, developed by professor Hugo Figueroa, from the Electrical Engineering and Computing College (FEEC), and used to monitor the storage and the trafficking of products. The application of the process in the manufacture of nanocompounds, licensed to the company EF Engenharia, from Sao Paulo city, modifies various properties of the polymers and allows for their use in plastics in the shoe industry, civil construction and surgical gloves. The RFID tags incorporate a miniature microchip and a radio antennae to compact products. Afterwards each code is digitalized for an automatic reading machine. They serve to track packages, production equipment and even cattle. The patent was licensed to the company STP Teleinformática, from Sao Paulo.

Besides the licensing contracts, the agency is also working on contracts based on demands. These are new developments, in which the companies are in search of a medicine or food and because of this they seek out the university. Many of these contracts involve new technologies that generate intellectual property rights. When this occurs the patent is divided between the company and the university”, says director Rosana. Up until the start of  December 2004, the Inova agency had already closed some sixty-one contracts based on external demand and a further seventy-seven  were in the phase of being negotiated. The team run by Rosana, an electronics engineer who chose the area of business as her field of work, is composed of six people known as partnership agents.

The Inova agency has been sought out by universities, research centers and institutions, interested in understanding the adopted model. For example, the Brazilian army sought out the agency because it wanted its help in commercializing its products, since much of the technology developed in the military area could have applications in the civil area. The manner found to attend to the request was to put two people, paid for by the institution, to work together with an agency team for one year. After this period, they will have been sufficiently trained to prospect the market niches into which their innovations and patent licensing might well fit.

Currently Unicamp has around three hundred and forty registered patents, which means  that there is still a lot to be done. Since there are no funds available for hiring new partnership agents to continue its growth, Inova intends to hire cholarship students who will be brought from the market. With more collaborators, the agency will section up its partnership agents. Each one will be charged with a particular area, such as, for example, medicines and food; mobility that covers the automobile, naval and aerospace sectors; Information technology (IT) law; public institutions and laws that give incentive to the area of culture. Rosana stated that sectioning will allow the agents to better understand the government measures relating to each sector, as well as the needs and specific demands. “Let’s see if we can’t generate solutions that will be multiplied. And the results should be better than ever”, she believes.