Interview: Startup PSI

PSI Immunology is a Platform of Immunological Solutions to develop products and processes to replace or reduce the use of animal models in tests of efficacy products of medical area or veterinary medical area before they are launched into the market. The startup originated from the master’s degree of one of the partners, Patricia Parreiras, and is the fusion of researchers from Federal University of Minas Gerais – UFMG, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – FIOCRUZ and Ezequiel Dias Foundation – FUNED with strong working partnership profile in the immunology area.

We conducted an interview with the entrepreneurs of PSI. Check it out:

What was the problem identified and what solution your business PSI offers?

In enterprises producing vaccines, the use of animal model brings disadvantages because this model does not allow quantifying the protein in the vaccine production line. Once this protein is a very expensive resource it brings significant financial loss to the manufacturer. In addition, since animal model may have variability of the results inherent to the use of animal model, the results obtained by the company that produces vaccines may not be repeated in the official tests (done by the government regulatory agency), so they have important losses (in numbers of million Reais per year).

Regarding the use of animal model by the regulatory agency (Agriculture, Livestock and Supply Ministry – MAPA), it cannot test every batch of vaccine that goes to the market, they perform sample testing, considering that the use of the animal model makes the process very slow. In addition, the price of maintenance of installations for the animals is unfeasible to increase the capacity of the MAPA tests (in the last 5 years the production of veterinary vaccines doses increased 78%: it is unfeasible to increase facilities to serve such demand – facilities are expensive). MAPA, using the animal model, still faces the disadvantage of suffering domestic and international pressure to reduce the use of the animal models in the laboratory tests.

The solution proposed by PSI Immunology is an in vitro method, an immunoassay that tests the efficacy of vaccines in plates. When there is a color change, indicates that the vaccine is good or that the amount of protein is enough to produce the vaccine. This test has been validated using the MAPA own serums which greatly adds value to the test.

In this way, the company of vaccines’ production: will save proteins and will be able to produce more doses of vaccines due to this economy and there will be a reduction of reproof lots in official tests. As the test of PSI Immunology will be standardizing the market, everyone will use the same test produced within the standards of good practice by a specific company. Similarly, the benefits for the regulatory agency will be important, such as: they will be able to test 100% of the batches of vaccines; they will provide (as regulatory agency) more accurate efficacy results which brings credibility to this institution and especially they will attend demands of animal reduction request in the experiments, which will also bring significant cost reduction with facilities for keeping animals.

What is your market niche and what are the perspectives on it?

The market niche is very promising, as the main buyer is the MAPA, regulatory agency of quality of veterinary vaccines. The second important market niche is the producers of veterinary vaccines.

How is the development of production technology?

Technology transfer can be made to a company. So the company who licenses the technology will sell the product to the MAPA and for the companies that produce veterinary vaccines. At the same time, PSI Immunology will look for the development of new international research collaborations. Identify new collaborative research areas, to allow interaction between researchers and to discuss plans/sources to obtain funds to initiate and/or continue long-lasting research collaborations.

Did you receive investments or are seeking government investment or any fund?

Resources for development of this platform were originated from the own partner institutions, a master scholarship, and funds of Incentive Program for Innovation – PII / Fiocruz 2010 and FAPEMIG (Minas Gerais State Agency for Research and Development).

When and how did you realize the idea / research / project that could become a product / service innovation and you could turn it into a business?

Due to our participation in the PII / Fiocruz Minas, 2010 the aid support in the preparation of EVETECIAS (Feasibility Studies: Technical, Economic, Commercial, Environmental and Social)  were crucial to identify that the project could result in an innovative product. Moreover, in 2015, with our participation in BIO Latin America Conference* we identified that the product had a target market and the vaccine producers companies had shown interest in our business, it was the beginning of the validation of our technology.

PSI Immunology in the BioStartup Lab**

PIS immunology participated in the 1st round of BioStartup Lab (BSL) and was one of the teams that most advanced throughout the program, surpassing every step with great dedication. The team consists of researchers with high technical qualifications, but with little business and market experience, so during the BioStartup Lab, they overcame every step with great dedication, showing enough learning. At this rate of hard work, the team came to the end, being among the top 10 startups in the program. Learning was so important that the researchers sought to return to their institutions and inspire other researchers. In prospecting activities for the 2nd round of BioStartup Lab, Patricia Parreiras and Luiz Guilherme Heneine opened the doors of Fiocruz and Funed for the BioStartup Lab team present the program and invite their colleagues.

* BIO Latin America (BLA) is an annual event held by Biominas Brasil in partnership with BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization). The BLA is a major Latin American event focused on business for the sector of life sciences.

** The BioStartup Lab is an initiative of Biominas Brasil and Sebrae Minas focused on people interested in creating solutions in the area of life sciences. The pre-acceleration startup program lasts 3 months and aims to boost startups in the areas of human health, digital health, agribusiness, animal health and environment.

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