U.S., Australian and United Kingdom investors are showing strong interest in an Australian invention that uses a synthetic polymer-based material to store dry blood, despite the fact that it is still awaiting international patent approval.
The multibillion-dollar pre-clinical drug development market traditionally uses paper-based materials to store small quantities of blood and other samples. But researchers have developed a synthetic polymer product, called MilliSpot that they say results in more precise analyses using less blood.
Professor Emily Hilder and her research team, from the University of Tasmania's Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science, developed the technology. Brisbane, Australia-based UniQuest Pty. Ltd. is the university's commercialization partner.
UniQuest's innovation and commercial development manager, Robin Fieldhouse, said investors are showing great interest.
“We have more than 10 parties awaiting bulk samples of MilliSpot to evaluate and some are potential strategic investors,” Fieldhouse said. “We remain in active discussions with several organizations.”
Fieldhouse would not name the potential investors.
Hilder said MilliSpot enables researchers to test pinpricks, rather than vials of blood, with greater ease and sensitivity than other absorbent materials. A similar technique has been used since the 1940s to store pinpricks of newborn infants' blood on paper to test for metabolic disorders. However, Hilder said drug testing is more complex, so storing blood on paper is not sufficiently reliable.
“We need something better than paper and that's what MilliSpot is — a porous polymer-based material,” she said.
The material is formed by the radical polymerization of a mixture of two to three acrylate monomers.
Using MilliSpot to store blood means tests require less blood, making it is easier to test children, or people who need frequent blood tests. The blood dries when absorbed into the material so it is not hazardous, ensuring safer tests for diseases like HIV.
Before the University of Tasmania's research center and UniQuest can prepare the technology for the global market, they must gain an internationally recognized patent to boost its value for potential investors.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty, an international treaty administered by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, released an IPRP — international preliminary report on patentability — in January. The PCT said the technology appeared novel and inventive, which are key requisites for international patents.
Fieldhouse said MilliSpot's PCT application will proceed to the next phase before the end of July, with separate patent applications being filed in Australia, the United States, Canada, Europe and other key markets. Each jurisdiction's patent office will take at least a year to examine the application before issuing patents.
“The positive IPRP most likely makes this examination-and-grant process quicker and simpler, and gives a good indication of a positive outcome,” he said.
The university's research center and UniQuest are developing a scalable manufacturing process to deliver marketable quantities of the product.
“The priority is raising investment funds to enable this expansion,” Fieldhouse said. It will take about a year to launch the product after investments are secured, he said.
UniQuest plans to form a startup company with prospective industry partners for developing MilliSpot into customer-ready products. It has already established an advisory board for the company.