Startup Strives to Simplify Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Reduce Toxic Waste

A molecular ‘Wiffle Ball’ that could add up to huge savings for the pharmaceutical industry

Did you know that the prescription you picked up at the pharmacy likely once contained a host of toxic materials that were used as a catalyst for its creation?

Don’t panic. In the development process, the toxins are stripped from the medication, and the FDA has stringent guidelines ensuring its safety.

But UConn chemistry professors Eugene Pinkhassik, Sergey Dergunov, and Ph.D. candidate Kevin Rivera have an innovation that they believe can offer a better, safer, less expensive, and more environmentally sound alternative.

“We’re excited about it, because it could be revolutionary in the course of chemical manufacturing,” Pinkhassik says. “At the same time, it doesn’t require remaking the chemical-catalyst process from scratch, so it is not going to be disruptive to a company, and it would be easier to adopt.”

Their two-step invention, called Reactomol, was selected as one of five promising UConn innovations vying for the grand prize of $20,000 in the Wolff New Venture Competition on Oct. 25. The event is the School of Business’ premier entrepreneurship contest.

Innovation Is Like a Non-Stick Frying Pan

“I tell my kids it is like using a frying pan. If you cook something, and burn it, it takes a lot of effort to clean it up. But a non-stick pan is much easier,” he says. “That’s what we’re trying to create for the pharmaceutical industry.”

“We came up with a new material, that is patented, that can be applied to existing processes,” says Pinkhassik, who is founder of its parent company, Tezrec. “Our related invention is like a molecular ‘Wiffle Ball’ that allows chemicals to pass through it. These two inventions can bypass the need for extensive, elaborate purification of some medications.”

The Reactomol-treated products could yield substantial savings for pharmaceutical companies, while also having tremendous environmental implications. It isn’t uncommon for a manufacturer to produce 200 pounds of medication and be left with 100 pounds of waste product.

“Even if we make a dent in the process, when you multiply it by the scale of prescription medications produced each year, it really adds up,” he says. “We’re not just saving money for pharmaceutical companies. Hazardous waste is everyone’s problem.”

Finding a Marketplace Strategy

The startup accepted an invitation to participate in the School of Business’ Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI) program this year. During CCEI’s Summer Fellowship, the team was able to address their dilemma of how to reach potential clients.

“What we gained from CCEI, and [business incubator] Accelerate UConn, was an approach to customer discovery,” Pinkhassik says. “You can’t just show up at a company and ask them to let you in!”

“They helped us connect to the right people,” he says. “We want to get our technology in the hands of people who design the pharmaceutical production processes. They will champion for us. Our approach now is more refined and focused.”

The scientists, who have a combined 30 years of experience with technology and the chemical-manufacturing industry, also got advice about strategy, budgeting, and refining their message to serve a non-scientific audience. Reactomol’s strong business potential led to an invitation to the prestigious Wolff challenge.

The team’s immediate plans are to apply for funding from the National Science Foundation, rent an incubator laboratory at UConn, and refine their prototype.

Reactomol is one of five startups competing at the Wolff New Venture Competition on Monday, Oct. 25 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The winner will receive $20,000 toward their new venture. To learn more about the competition or to register to watch the live presentation online, please visit: https://ccei.uconn.edu/wolff-new-venture-competition

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