From a research idea to a business project: Interview with Marta Costa

12 Maio 2021

Marta Costa is a mother of a little boy and a researcher at ICVS in the fields of Drug Discovery and Oncology that, together with an enthusiastic team of researchers, embarked on creating a spin off company focused on the synthesis of novel molecules for cancer therapy.

Can you highlight what were the major bottlenecks regarding the protection of your IP?

The major difficulty was to translate our scientific data into a suitable language for the patenting document. This was quite a challenge! Of course, we had help from a specialized company, but the way a patent describes a science-based work is very different from what we are used to as scientists. Also trying to protect as much information as we could in terms of future developments was a major concern. This is a long process, still ongoing in our case because the international patent is submitted but not yet granted.

About the decision that lead you and all the team to decide to create a spin off company, can you tell us what was the trigger?

We started this project some years ago and the scientific results were accumulating and showing us clear evidence of the potential of a novel compound family we were studying as anticancer agents. With each result, specially results from in vivo efficacy and toxicity studies, we became more aware of the importance of our findings and their potential to be translated to the clinics.

Then, last December, BACIS promoted a meeting with its international Advisory Board that integrated experts from the pharma industry, where we made a pitch to present the technology. Their opinion was unanimous and very decisive for us: creating a company was the wisest way to go forward.

In this way, we would be able to apply to more diverse funding opportunities to support the additional steps required to increase the value of our technology and therefore our IP. Drug discovery and development projects need substantial funding to make pre-clinical studies suitable to enter clinical trials and, thus, trough a company this would be more achievable and also connection to pharmaceutical companies would be facilitated.

Can there be a greater challenge to an academic research team than creating a business? Well, we decided to take our chances…

We know that your project was selected to be part of HiTech program. How does the program work? And what are your expectations regarding this program and what kind of opportunities you are looking for with this experience?

The HiTech program is a fantastic opportunity for academic research teams that have in hands projects that can be translated from the bench to the market. The ultimate goal of the program is to boost value creation from market relevant research.

Since this is our case, we applied and were fortunate to be selected for an intense 3 month course. This program will not only give us the necessary insights for what is needed to create a company, but also to work on the potential of what our technology really is or can be used for.

Through biweekly classes and meetings, we work together with experienced advisors and mentors from the business, market and pharma area that help us to establish our business model and plan, preparing us with the right tools to create our company and also to go for funding opportunities with the right know-how.

To end up, what will be the next steps and what are your expectations to a near future regarding your entrepreneurial path?

For us, a group of academic scientists, following an entrepreneurial path can be very frightening but also a great challenge that may lead to an important contribution to society! For now, we are looking to develop our business model and plan, which are very important steps to define the business and research development strategies for the near future.

We are a multidisciplinary team, and our backgrounds are complementary, but there is a lot we still do not know in this drug development path. Thus, now we are also working on creating an advisory board for our company, comprising experts from diverse fields of knowledge that will help us to develop the pre-clinical phase.
Our project demands substantial funding in the near future, especially in this pre-clinical phase. One of the most important tasks we have in hands is searching and applying for funding, from public and private sectors.

Our timeline and development will be directly related to the amount of money we will be able to raise. We are optimistic to achieve what we need to fulfill our goal, we are not developing a “won’t have” product, we are working on the next best therapy for cancers that have very poor outcomes.