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22 October 2014

Technology of the Year: Disruptive Materials

The Uppsala spin-out wins out Technology award for Upsalite.

Author: Thierry Heles, reporter

More than 70% of all drug candidates are rejected during research and development because they are not soluble, stopping many possibly life-saving treatments in their tracks before they ever reach the market. Their low solubility is a problem because it limits the body’s ability to absorb the drug.

This is where Disruptive Materials comes in, a spin-out of Sweden’s Uppsala University and winner of Global University Venturing’s Technology of the Year award, which is commercialisation a newly-created material called Upsalite. The material, an alkaline earth metal carbonate, could potentially lead to pharmaceutical companies reconsidering a large amount of discarded drug candidates as mixing drugs with Upsalite stops the drugs from crystallising thus making them soluble.

The material was discovered accidentally by Maria Strømme, professor at the Division of Nanotechnology and Functional Materials, after someone in her team left an experiment into an entirely different material running over a weekend by mistake.

Mattias Karls, chief executive of Disruptive Materials, described Upsalite to us as a solid, hard material with tiny pores like a sponge, allowing other materials to fill those pores. Among other things, the material can “suck moisture out of air and traps the water molecules inside the pores.”

Describing the benefit for the pharmaceutical companies, he explained that “these pores can be filled with drugs, which prevents them from crystalising, and they become trapped in Upsalite molecule by molecule. When you take the Upsalite tablet, they would be released one molecule at a time.”

The company has fast been attracting the attention of big pharmaceuticals and has begun collaborating with several of them, although for now is Mattias is not disclosing who these are. The sheer amount of interest has taken the researchers aback, however.

Mattias noted that when the company launched and the properties of Upsalite were described in a paper, “we thought the pharma industry would be able to improve the solubility of drugs, we knew about that problem and we knew we had a good solution for that problem. But when we launched, we received requests from over 2,000 companies.”

Although he said that a lot of the requests were for applications that would not work, there are “a lot of applications that are looking for a material with the properties that Upsalite has. OLED screens is one application. In OLED screen fabrication today … you need to have a layer of absorbent that will absorb the glue which glues together the panels. We had no idea that that problem existed and that existing materials are quite hard to work with.”

The interest in the material is not drying up either, as the company still gets phone calls every day from new companies enquiring about possible applications. At least for now, Disruptive Materials is keeping its selection of customers small and is working with 25 companies to develop Upsalite for different areas and validate results.

The company is hoping to narrow down its focus by summer 2015 and decide on five to ten core applications areas. It is also keeping control of manufacture, having outsourced the production to a factory in Lithuania and envisaging resellers in the near future which they would distribute the material to via Lithuania.

The success of Upsalite has had one downside, if it can be called that, as the company was originally expecting to keep producing more revolutionary materials. Despite having a large research team, that vision has now been pushed into the long-term future as the company is reaping the benefits of its smash-hit first material.

 

Other nominations: Juno Therapeutics (various), Spectromics (Manchester), OxSonics (Oxford)

Copyright Mawsonia Limited 2010. Please don´t cut articles from www.globaluniversityventuring.com or the PDF and redistribute by email or post to the web without written permission.

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