SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Hemoalgae, from Cartago, Costa Rica, is moving forward with the extraction and development of molecules of hirudin, a peptide with anticoagulant properties, which impacts the biotech and med-tech sectors. Their uniqueness? Sourcing hirudin from algae.

"This is a startup or emerging venture in the field of biotechnology. We use microalgae as a vehicle or platform for protein production," Myrka Rojas, CEO and founder of the startup, told BioWorld.

The company, founded in 2016, developed the technology, which allows microalgae to express different proteins that can then be used in the biotech and med-tech sectors, among other industries that may benefit from a less expensive way of obtaining hirudin than the techniques currently known and available in the market.

"Hirudin is an anticoagulant that is naturally produced by leeches but extracting it from its natural source is very expensive and difficult," Rojas explained.

"Other biological platforms have produced it, but, nevertheless, it is still quite expensive or they produce it in a way not exactly equal to its original natural source, and microalgae are capable of producing exactly the same hirudin as leeches, while reducing production costs," she said.

The startup aims to become a microalgae production power. "We believe that we have the possibility and the potential to go beyond the borders of Costa Rica. We do not see ourselves as an enterprise only here in our country, but rather we are just looking for partners with a presence in several countries or an international presence and we visualize ourselves more than being only a local company," said Rojas.

And perhaps that is the reason why Hemoalgae has been knocking on doors abroad almost since its foundation.

Part of the company (8%) was acquired in 2017 for $100,000 by SOSV Investments, from Princeton, N.J., through their Rebelbio biotech seed and accelerator program run by a capital and investment fund out of Cork, Ireland.

But the Costa Rican company knows it needs to move forward and that the deal with SOSV is only a first step on the path. The company's main goal in 2020 is to find the ideal partners to benefit from the hirudin molecules.

"We have knocked on doors, but nevertheless they have been a bit limiting so we want to expand our scope, and by 2020 we visualize something more tangible, which we see as having a better-defined product, perhaps a new molecule, with partners who have a need of that molecule," said Rojas.

Meanwhile, the company is working on filing patents to protect its discoveries and is currently receiving legal advice. Rojas declined to comment further on the intellectual property protection strategy.

While the clinical sector can be challenging for startups like Hemoalgae, the founders are aware of difficulties involved, and are consequently trying to enter the diagnostics business initially, which may lead to new clinical applications.

"We didn't think it was the best way forward to try and enter such a specialized area as the clinical sector with the first molecule, since a much more intense degree of specialization is required," Rojas explained. "That is why we are now focusing more on the development of a chemical laboratory reagent. That's why we currently visualize hirudin more as a chemical laboratory reagent than a molecule for clinical use," she said.

However, the company is still open to partnerships with the pharma sector, and one of its goals for 2020 is to keep approaching companies and institutions at different levels at the biotech industry.

"We do not rule out [the development of clinical products]. However, we are clear that the clinical sector requires a greater degree of specialization, preclinical trials, clinical trials and compliance with other regulations," said Rojas "For the moment we want to follow this path, consolidate our position, make ourselves known in the market, and then eventually develop clinical products."

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