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Algal toxins as a medication

In 2015 Ralf Kellmann from the University of Bergen applied for and received 6,5 million NOK in funding from the BIOTEK2021 program at the Norwegian Research Council. In an interview with the Research Council, he tells that a close collaboration with BTO has been crucial for the project.
08.09.2016

Ralf Kellmann is a scientist at the University of Bergen, Dept. of Biology with extensive experience from the fields of marine biology and molecular biology. He has worked over 20 years with research on algal toxins, which is the foundation of the project “Production of Neosaxitoxin using Genetic Methods”, where he is the project manager. Neosaxitoxin can become a new type of local anesthetic, since it has analgesic and long-term effects (two to four days).

Why did you apply for optimization funds?

– When we applied for the BIOTEK2021 funds we had an idea of how to produce Neosaxitoxin in large quantities based on previous research results. The optimization funds obtained from the BIOTEK2021 program was perfect for us since they only demand that you have a product for future development based on the existing research results.

What have you learned during the project?

– My background is from the academic world, and I did not have a lot of insight into the commercial world before we started the project. It has been exciting with a steep learning curve. I have learned a lot about the processes of commercializing research results, and about the mechanisms that rule the pharmaceutical industry and its economy. The optimization workshops arranged by the Norwegian Research Council were also beneficial. An important challenge we faced was to balance the pressure from the academic side when it came to publishing and the absolute need of confidentiality on the business side.

How was it to cooperate with the TTO?

The cooperation with BTO has been crucial for the project and has been really good. BTO has spent a lot of effort and resources on the project, and we were lucky to have an extraordinarily good business developer. 

Do you have any good advice for other scientists who consider to apply for optimization funds?

– It is crucial to know that an optimization project does not have basic scientific research as its main focus. The main focus is to develop or optimize a product. The commercial aspect is just as important as the scientific aspect. My experience is that there is not that much time left for the commercial part of the project because the scientific and development aspect demands a lot from you, even though you have the expertise (which I do not have). A great business developer, a close collaboration with the TTO and a clear commercial strategy is crucial here.

What is the future plan for the project, and for you?

– The plan is to establish a company, to apply for verification funds and hopefully manage to sell the product to a buyer within the next three years. After that I have already started to think of my next invention.

Read the full interview with Ralf Kellmann at the Norwegian Research Council’s website.

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