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Passing on knowledge

Projects funded by Fapemig reach industry and make a financial return possible for the institution

MINAS FAZ CIÊNCIA archiveTwo vaccines for veterinary use, one against ticks, the other anti-venom serum, which protects the cattle from rattlesnake venom, are the first two products with a patent deposited with the National Institute of Industrial Property (Inpi) licensed by the State of Minas Gerais Research Support Foundation (Fapemig). When they arrive on the market, they are going to earn royalties for the foundation and for research institutes that hold the patents. A third product with a patent filed, which is under negotiation, may follow the same path as the vaccines.

It is a device installed in the inside of the inlet diffuser of catalytic converters, intended to improve the performance of the gas exhaust system in automobile engines and to reduce pollution as a consequence. The three patents are part of a group of 11 deposited.To organize the patents and to make them known, the foundation created the Technological Management Office (EGT), which patents the innovations with potential commercial interest. The experience is following the same path as FAPESP, which in May 2001 created the Nucleus for Patenting and Licensing Technology (Nuplitec), for protecting intellectual property and licensing the inventions resulting from the researches financed by the foundation. FAPESP has 75 patents deposited with INPI.

“We try to transfer technology when we verify its possibilities for benefiting society and economic growth. That is why we look for interest from the market in each kind of technology, in perfecting it and in implementing it on an industrial scale”, says Naftale Katz, Fapemig’s scientific director until May, when he was transferred to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), in Rio de Janeiro.

The vaccine for controlling ticks in cattle was the first product negotiated with a company, in this case Hertape, a laboratory from Minas Gerais. Developed at the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), it was made up of 45 of the 650 amino acids that form the protein Bm86 from the intestine of Boophilus microplus, a common species of tick that attacks the herds of cattle in Brazil.

The study was coordinated by researcher Joaquin Hernán Patarroyo, from the Veterinary Department of the Biotechnology Applied to Livestock Institute (Bioagro), at UFV, in cooperation with the Immunology Foundation of Colombia. The vaccine is the first of the synthetic kind made entirely in the laboratory and without the need for animal blood for its preparation, developed in Latin America, that is going to reach the market. It has also been patented in Australia, in Mexico, in the United States, and in the European Community.

Applied subcutaneously in the cattle, the vaccine stimulates the production of antibodies in the blood of the animal against the protein produced by the tick’s intestine. When swallowing the blood, these acarids (these ticks are classified in the Arachnida class, the same as spiders and scorpions, in the Acari subclass) cannot manage to process it and become debilitated, ceasing to lay eggs and to reproduce themselves.

“The vaccine does not show any toxic effect on the cattle, nor does it accumulate in the animals’ tissues. It acts only on the ticks. Tests carried out on animals isolated in stables have shown an efficiency of 85%”, Patarroyo explains. Field tests done at the National Dairy Cattle Research Center of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), in the municipality of Coronel Pacheco (MG), attained 80% in effectiveness.

Funded by Fapemig, the research was started by Patarroyo ten years ago, with the study of parasites that attack cattle in the pasture, causing a loss of weight and a reduction in the production of milk and of meat, besides the transmission of diseases that may lead to the death of the animals. According to the researcher, figures updated by Professor Laerte Grissi, from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, indicate annual losses in cattle raising in the order of R$ 2 billion, caused by the action of the ticks.

Unprecedented in the world and cheap, according to the researchers, the vaccine was transferred to the Hertape laboratory by a public tender, in order to guarantee equal conditions for the interested parties who presented proposals for its development. The winner signed a 20-year contract with Fapemig and UFV. During this period, the forecast of financial return for the foundation is 6% (split with the researchers and UFV) of the value of the net sales of the product.

According to the laboratory’s commercial director and partner, Caubi Carvalho, the interest in producing the vaccine on an industrial scale is due, in great measure, to the fact that Brazil exports beef to about 120 countries, and since 2003 has been featuring as the largest exporter of the product in the world. “The Hertape laboratory is one of the largest manufacturers of veterinary products in Latin America. We are going to develop the vaccine and market it on a large scale, with a forecast of good business, since we are talking about a technological leap in the control of this kind of pest, infestation with which is very great, inside and outside the country”, he explains.

The forecast is for producing 30 million doses right in the first year. Once mass vaccinations have started for Brazil’s herds of cattle, the director calculates that it will be possible to bring about a sharp fall in the number of ticks from the pastures in five or six years. The laboratory is now looking for international suppliers of peptides (synthetic combinations of amino acids, isolated in the laboratory), not yet produced in Brazil.

Carvalho has also given talks to cattle raisers in Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Goiás, where new field tests will be carried out, on a large scale. By August, the farms for the tests will be chosen, in a cycle that will comprise two summers and two winters. Only then will the vaccine be launched onto the market. “We have now done the registration with the Ministry of Agriculture. First, we are going to attend to the Brazilian farmers, and then put the product into Colombia, Venezuela, and South Africa.”

The second product patented by Fapemig is the anti-venom serum vaccine for veterinary use that stimulates the production of antibodies against the venom of the rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus terrificus), one of the most lethal. It was developed by researcher Thaís Viana de Freitas, from the Ezequiel Dias Foundation (Funed), linked to the Minas Gerais State Secretariat for Health.

After carrying out researches at the Venoms and Antivenoms Control Center of the World Health Organization, in Liverpool, England, in 1986, the researcher started her studies to make an antiophidic vaccine using the venom of this snake, which is common in Brazil. Its development started off from lipossomes – spherical membranes produced in the laboratory – used as encapsulating vehicles for the active principles of the venom. These lipossomes stimulate the production of antibodies and have a composition similar to that of the cell membrane of the snake, and serve to carry therapeutic substances in their inside.

The unprecedented composition of the vaccine shows a biodegradable and non-toxic nature, capable of inducing cell immunity. “We studied the encapsulation of the venoms of some Brazilian snakes in association with immunostimulants, for the production of antibodies”, the researcher explains. These antibodies protect animals from large doses of venom, up to eight times what is regarded as lethal, according to tests carried out in the laboratory.

“The vaccine is a preventive action, because about 1 million head of cattle a year are lost in Brazil as a result of snakebites, and serotherapy is not used in these cases due to the high cost of this treatment”, says Thaís. The process of patenting is seen by her as a guarantee of protecting knowledge for technological innovation, as well as a financial return to be applied in new researches.

The patent for the anti-venom serum vaccine was deposited by Fapemig in 2002, and to produce it on an industrial scale a company from Feira de Santana, Bahia, called Labovet Produtos Veterinários, was chosen, which will still have to carry out field tests before making it available on the market.The commercial application of the antiophidic vaccine is seen with good eyes by Fernando Falcão, a director of the laboratory. For him, with a herd of cattle of around 175 million head, Brazil alone is already an immense market in itself. “We intend to cover up to 50% of this total in the first few years with the vaccine on the market, with an annual production of between 80 million and 100 million doses”, he says.

To do so, in the next six months, tests will be carried out to assess the technology, besides technical and economic studies. After this period, and once the forecast potentialities have been confirmed, the laboratory will do the registration with the Ministry of Agriculture, also with a view to exporting the product to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela, countries of the Amazon region that have a high incidence of rattlesnakes.

Rigorous checking
The guarantee of the results obtained with production at an industrial level is one of Fapemig’s objects of work with EGT. In the contract signed with the companies, there are preconditions that establish how the process will be managed, setting out, for example, everything from how much each party involved will receive in royalties, to how the relationship between them will be handled. “From the assessment to the transfer of technology, everything is done with funds from Fapemig”, says Katz.

It was by following this line of registering patents that Marcello Augusto Faraco de Medeiros and Eduardo Murilo Rosas Arantes, mechanical engineers and researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, discovered that automobile catalytic converters, made up of ceramic parts in the form of a honeycomb and metal, and used to reduce the concentrations of toxic gases that leave the engine (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides), could have their performance improved with the application of screens in the inside of the equipment’s inlet diffuser, to optimize this flow. After a search of international patents, they discovered that there was no news related to the use of screens in catalytic converters.

Under the guidance of Medeiros, who today is lecturing in Aeronautics at the Aeronautical Engineering Department of the University of São Paulo (USP) in São Carlos, Arantes developed the device based on technology used in the aeronautical industry, in the so-called wind tunnels, which, like catalytic converters, have a brusque expansion of the exhaust area. “The gases emitted by automobile engines do not pass through the converter in a uniform manner, and are concentrated in the center of the piece”, he explains.

Installed in the inlet of the converter, the equipment improves its efficiency by making the gases pass uniformly at all the parts of the honeycomb. “Furthermore, the device may reduce the size of the part by some 30% and lower the costs of making it. It can be adapted to any automotive vehicle”, the researcher says. Each type of catalytic converter needs one or more specific screens, but the component can be made both with a metallic material and with a non-metallic one, provided that it is heat-resistant. Another advantage is the improvement in the efficiency of the engine, with a consequent saving in fuel. Still without a commercial name, the device should attract the attention of auto part companies and automobile manufacturers.

Tested in the Fluid Mechanics laboratories at PUC in Minas, the device proved to be very suitable for commercial use, including studies that point to the extremely low cost of manufacturing it. “The devices currently used are heavy, expensive, and they absorb a lot of heat. We have now patented the screen flow distributor and have started the process of selecting the companies for transferring the technology to the industry”, he states. The choice should be announced in two months.

Fapemig also requests the depositing of patents that have not been financed by it during the researches. “Besides the researchers linked to universities and research centers, independent inventors can also rely on support from the EGT. At the moment, there are two patents originating from private projects that are being applied for”, says Katz. His expectation is that these figures will increase, above all in the areas of biotechnology, farming and cattle raising, mechanical engineering, tropical medicine and parasitology, as a result of the very profile of the state and the needs of its economy.