Magnetic attraction for chemical processes

Kopp Technologies. A novel technology that permits manufacturers of vaccines, drugs, and cosmetics to dispense with cumbersome filters or centrifuges for the industrial processes needed to purify liquids, will soon be on the market across Latin America.

It relies on adsorbents with magnetic properties to separate impurities from liquids, using porous silica magnetic microparticles. Industrial applications frequently use enzymes to catalyse chemical transformations, but then those enzymes or other contaminants need to be recovered from suspension in the liquid.

The use of enzymes, rather than chemical catalysts, is a growing trend in the pharma and fine chemicals industry which has positive environmental benefits. Separation technologies that allow re-use of enzymes further increase efficiency and reduce costs. Such technologies are also used in medical or biochemistry testing, for example to separate antibodies from fluids.

Magnetic separation of enzyme particles in suspension. Foto Kopp Technologies

Magnetic separation of enzyme particles in suspension. Foto Kopp Technologies

Instead of mechanical techniques like filtration or centrifuging, porous materials with magnetic properties can do the job more effectively. They could fill an important gap in the biotechnology market. At present, while magnetic separation technologies are certainly used for smaller-scale research or academic laboratories, the materials are too costly for most industrial-scale processes (some magnetic materials cost up to US$400 per gram).

Kopp Technologies believes its solution will help industry leap-frog this barrier. Its founder, Willian Kopp stumbled on the solution while researching his biotechnology PhD in 2013 at Brazil’s Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) in São Paulo State. He then changed the subject of his PhD and focused on developing an adsorbent that would fill this gap in the biotechnology market.

Kopp applied for a patent on a new product before defending his thesis and – crucial for any startup – teamed up with experienced business partner Maicon Vilabruna, who had a track record in the pharma industry.

The other essential ingredient, of course, is finance. In the Brazilian business environment where banks and venture capital firms are conservative and highly risk-averse, public sector support is vital for funding innovation. The fledgling firm in 2016 turned to the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), Brazil’s premier regional funding agency.

Magnetic separation allows manufacturers to costly  skip  filtration or centrifuge processes. Foto Kopp Technologies

Magnetic separation allows manufacturers to costly skip filtration or centrifuge processes. Foto Kopp Technologies

FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE) helped Kopp develop a series of techniques to introduce different chemical groups onto the surface of silica magnetic microparticles designed for use in various industrial purification processes.

The project continued directly into PIPE Phase 2 for development of the product on a pilot scale and has already had its report on the first year of work approved.

The firm’s partners had expected to develop 16 products by August 2018. In August 2017, they had developed and tested 27 products, and in the second half of November, they launched ten of these for use in the laboratory. Kopp told a Brazilian reporter about his expectations for 2018. “We expect to begin selling to companies, and we should be exporting to Latin American countries within the next two years,” he said.

At present Brazilian industry depends on imported technology and inputs, and purification is often the most expensive stage in the development of a novel chemical or biochemical compound, accounting for about 40% of the production cost.

“The use of magnetic microparticles lets the manufacturer skip the filtration or centrifugation stage since the molecules of interest adhere selectively to the material thanks to their affinity with the chemical groups inserted on the surface of the material,” Kopp said. “The material containing the product can then be easily and rapidly separated by applying an external magnetic field. The benefits are much lower costs and shorter production times, which also cut costs.”

You can read a more detailed article about Kopp Technologies by Brazilian reporter Suzel Tunes by clicking here.

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