Brazil startup focuses on tomato molecule to treat bad cholesterol

Researchers from the São Paulo startup Crop Biotecnologia have developed a platform to express peptides (amino acid molecules that make up proteins) in tomatoes for the treatment of chronic diseases.

Through the platform, the researchers have already obtained a peptide for the oral treatment of cholesterol. They say it inhibits PCSK9 - a molecule that degrades receptors in the liver responsible for capturing bad cholesterol (LDA) from the bloodstream.

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Developed through a project supported by the Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE), of Fapesp, the platform and the molecule are in the patenting process and have already aroused the interest of licensing by two pharmaceutical industries and investment by a venture capital fund.

Changing course
"Through interviews that we conducted in the final phase of participation in the PIPE Entrepreneur program we were able to obtain two letters of interest from pharmaceutical industries and the signing of a term sheet [pre-investment agreement] with a venture capital fund," said Lucas Ribeiro, co-founder and scientific director of Crop Biotechnology, in a lecture at the closing of the 18th class of the high-tech entrepreneurship training program.

Before participating in PIPE Entrepreneur, the founders of the company had the idea of growing tomatoes with PCSK9, then freeze-drying them and supplying the product in the form of a powdered extract for nutraceutical and functional food industries. When talking during the training with representatives from 47 companies, they found, however, that the nutraceuticals market is 30 times smaller than the pharmaceutical one. In addition, they would have to overcome regulatory barriers, as it is a product obtained by genetic engineering of a fruit.

"Based on this finding, we started to look at the pharmaceutical market, where the peptide has a high potential for commercialization," Ribeiro said.

In talking to pharmaceutical industry representatives and potential investors, however, the entrepreneurs found that the platform for developing therapeutic peptides with oral administration would have more value than just the molecule for treating high cholesterol.

"For potential investors, it would be interesting if our platform covered other therapeutic peptides," Ribeiro said.

From this tip, the entrepreneurs did a screening of used therapeutic peptides that could be developed through the platform and identified 95.

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