In 1999, FK Biotecnologia S.A. became the first Brazilian biotechnology firm to receive venture capital for the development of its innovative technologies. Since then, the company has grown at a steady pace and is considered a pioneering example of a successful biotech start-up in Brazil. Patent protection and patent information have been important elements of FK biotec's business strategy.
FK biotec was established in CIENTEC, a technology incubator in Southern Brazil, and focuses on research, development, production and distribution of immunodiagnostics kits. In May 2001, the company received authorization from the Health Ministry to begin the commercialization of its immunodiagnostics kits, and its product line currently comprises over 70 items. Fernando Kreutz, Medical Doctor with a Ph.D. in Biotechnology and founder of FK biotec, estimates that the Brazilian market for immunodiagnostics currently amounts to US$1 billion and depends almost exclusively on foreign imports or licensed foreign technology. This represents a great opportunity for future expansion.
But FK biotec's most important technological development has been in the field of vaccines for cancer. The company is currently developing "an experimental vaccine composed of cancer cells, that work as medical treatment as they are capable of stimulating the immunological system to fight against cancer", says Kreutz. The technique is similar to the one used in many countries for the development of vaccines against melanomas and was developed in cooperation with local hospitals and universities. While the treatment is still at an experimental stage and Kreutz believes it will be some time before it may be commercialized, it has already been the object of an international patent application via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
Kreutz believes his company's know-how, ability to develop new technology and its patent application have played a crucial role in motivating investors, government funds and venture capitalists, such as the Companhia Riograndense de Participaçoes (CRP) and an unnamed Canadian venture capital investor, in investing in FK biotec. To a large extent, it is a high-risk enterprise. The treatment must still undergo clinical trials before it can be commercialized, but the promising results obtained in the laboratory and the exclusive rights granted by a patent are the basis for investing in the development of the new vaccine.
Fernando Kreutz is also an avid user of patent databases. "I am very surprised with the amount of knowledge I am getting from patent documents" he points out. "Knowing the legislation and regulations has been a differential for my company. Access to the information has been my biggest problem, but with the Internet things have become easier." FK biotec relies significantly on patent information for identifying new technologies, niche markets and potential licensors from which to acquire leading technologies.
Aware of the low use of patent information by some of his colleagues in other firms or research institutions, Fernando Kreutz points out that there is a knowledge gap that has to be filled: researchers do not use patent information because they do not know how much they can gain from it.
For a technology-based company such as FK biotec, intellectual property may represent one of their most valuable assets. FK biotec has also invested in registering its trademarks FK-Biotecnologia ® and Bioprospecta ® and considers them a small but important investment, crucial for the development of the company's marketing strategy.
For more information on FK-Biotecnologia, see http://www.fkbiotec.com.br