Nano-scale chemistry, large-scale business

Shrinking the clusters of drug molecules may make treatment more effective. This is one of the patent-pending applications developed in the materials physics laboratory.

Nanonisation is a coinage for something that doesn’t quite exist yet. According to Edward Hæggström, Professor in the Division of Materials Physics, nanonisation is nevertheless a good way to describe what the device developed in his research laboratory does.

­“Simply put, nanonisation is a method that reduces the size of molecular clusters, or particles, without impairing their chemical properties,” Hæggström explains.

The intricacies of the method cannot be described yet, since they are still in the process of being patented, but, the invention already has its first application.

 “The idea is to nanonise large-scale drug particles,” says Hæggström. “Smaller particles dissolve more quickly and fit into targeted areas more easily. In other words, nanonisation could make drugs more effective.”

Science as capital

Work on nanonisation began a decade ago, when professor Jouko Yliruusi proposed the original idea to Haeggström. That marked the beginning of a long development process.

“This is a great example of what the University community can achieve at its best,” Haeggström declares. “We had a vision, excellent participants and the opportunity to test different approaches.”

The project received funding from Tekes.

Now the idea will be commercialised. Once the patents have been obtained, Hæggström and his partners plan to establish a company that will offer nanonisation services to drug manufacturers.

The University community is a trove of insight, professionals and opportunities to test new approaches.

The business world compels researchers to adopt a new philosophy.

“Someone once neatly encapsulated the difference between science and business, saying that in the lab, it is enough for a device to function once, but in a company it must function every single time,” Hæggström says.

Publications and patents side by side

In early 2015, while planning the commercialisation process, Hæggström turned to the University’s innovation services.

According to Jari Strandman, CEO of Helsinki Innovation Services, Hæggström’s idea is a textbook example of an innovation worth commercialising.

This spring, the University of Helsinki updated its commercialisation policy and invention guidelines. The goal is to encourage and pave the way for researchers to convert their inventions into business opportunities.

Strandman sees no conflict between commercialisation and open science.

“You have to consider how an invention can benefit society the most. It is not enough to publish the invention; it must also be productised.”

Haeggström sees no problems with seeking patents either.

“We had to postpone our publications by a few months until the patent applications were approved. In my mind, that was no problem.”

Nanonisation may find other applications in the future, but Hæggström still keeps mum about them.

“Let’s start with one, and look into other ideas later,” he says.