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UCC Chemistry spin-out wins $10 million contract with US company

15 Mar 2010
Joe Tobin, John Hanrahan and John Hogan
UCC Chemistry spin-out wins $10 million contract with US company

Glantreo wins $10m contract UCC spin-out company, Glantreo has signed a $10 million deal with a major US company, a global player in the chromatography and separations area. Glantreo is a high tech materials company that was created to commercialise the materials/science chemical separations research that is been carried out in Irish universities.

Chromatography is a method to separate, purify and quantify chemical mixtures. “It’s used in almost every lab, wherever chemicals are involved,” explains Dr John Hanrahan, Glantreo’s chief technical officer. “Within chromatography, the actual separating is done by a packed column of silica particles. We have come up with a new way of making these silica particles which increases the speed and the capacity at which chromatography can be carried out.”

“The beauty of the whole process is that it gives a mono-dispersed particle size. So if you are looking for two micron-sized particles you get two micron-sized particles,” he says. “That was a big problem before- you were looking for two and you were getting 10 and you had to then separate out the ones you didn’t want. That means you lost a lot of the yield of particles you were looking for when you were making particles.”

While a researcher at UCC Dr Hanrahan developed an approach to make uniform silica particles efficiently with funding from Enterprise Ireland. Glantreo was set up to commercialise the technology, called sub2sila, which improves on existing approaches to preparing silica for use in chromatography. “Conventionally the yield would be about 10 per cent and the time taken to make that 10 per cent would be about two months, whereas our process is over in a week and it gives 100 per cent yield,” says Dr Hanrahan.

Founded in 2004, the company has licensed subs2sila from UCC. The technology has applications in the high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) market and also in the next generation of HPLC, which is know as ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC).

The particles that are produced by the sub2sila process allow the speed at which chromatography is performed to be increased by almost 100 fold. This has huge implications for the pharma industry in terms of Quality Control, production time and laboratory costs. More importantly it will increase the number of new drug molecules that will be able to be screened and tested thereby reducing the time taken for the discovery of new drug entities.

Chromatography is not just confined to the pharmaceutical industry: it is also utilised for example in the food and beverage industry, forensics, just about anywhere chemicals are found. The patented sub2sila technology will be used in these industries’ to reduce the time it takes to separate and purify complex chemical mixtures.

Glantreo is a vehicle to make the technology suitable for licensing to potential customers. “Like anything that comes out of universities, it wasn’t quite ready for industry,” said Dr Hanrahan. “Generally, work done in academia is done with an academic focus – the researchers aren’t really interacting with industry. My role is to work with our industrial partners. I’ll be on the bridge looking in both directions. It will be up to me to go back into academia and look for technologies that our customers need.”

The ideal model for Glantreo is that one technology transfer agreement with a university could potentially lead to many agreements with industry partners. “We are interested in licensing platforms that we can exploit in multiple licence deals with clients across business verticals,” says Dr Hanrahan.

Under the terms of the commercialisation agreement, UCC will earn licence and fees, as well as royalties on Glantreo’s sales and sublicensing revenues. Dr Hanrahan praises the Technology Transfer Office in UCC as well as Enterprise Ireland for the help they gave the fledgling company. Enterprise Ireland part-funded a strategic sales and marketing consultant for the company and is partially funding the patent applications Glantreo will make from technologies licensed out of universities.

The company’s management today includes Professor Mike Morris, Dr John Hanrahan, John Hogan and Chairman, Dr Jim McGrath. In 2009, Dr Hanrahan was instrumental in the successful technology transfer of sub2sila to a client site in the US and has overseen sales revenue grow in excess of €300,000 and staffing levels growing to seven, six of whom are chemists. In the past two years Dr Hanrahan has been awarded the Shell Live Wire Young Entrepreneur Award (Sept 2008): the Business Plan of the year award Genesis Showcase (April 2008) and the Royal Society of Chemistry SME of the month (Nov 2009)

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