Measurable cocktail effect with new method
What concerned Agneta Oskarsson, professor emeritus of food toxicology at SLU, and Johan Lundqvist, senior lecturer at the Institute for Biomedicine and Veterinary Public Health Sciences (BVF) at the Faculty of Pharmacology and Toxicology, is that we are exposed to so many chemicals in our environment and yet we know so little of the harmful effects they can have. This is a complex issue, which has made it essential not just to be able to measure the levels of different chemical substances, but also to devise new methods capable of measuring their combined effects - something that is occasionally referred to the cocktail effect.
Early contact with SLU Holding essential
“After several years of research, we identified a clear need and a potential commercial application for the methods we had developed. We initiated contact with SLU Holding and saw that there was indeed potential in our analysis method, which has the capacity to measure not just individual chemical substances but also their combined effects. We received verification funding via SLU Holding, as well as various forms of advice and support. Collaboration with UIC (Uppsala Innovation Centre) and participation in both the incubator programme UIC Build and UIC Accelerator have also played a significant role in the company’s development. That SLU Holding is now on board as co-owner in the company means a lot,” says Johan.
One test measures the effects of all substances
BioCell Analytica’s main customers include wastewater treatment plants and those that produce water intended for human consumption - two actors for whom comprehensive testing is conducted in order to monitor water quality and the effectiveness of purification. This is work that requires a comprehensive system of testing, where the detection of the harmful effects of various chemical substances is vital to being able to put remedial measures in place.
“What we are selling is an analytics service. With one water sample, we can measure a whole range of parameters. To get a full picture, tests sometimes need to be taken at various intervals throughout the year. With our technique, we can measure the effects of all substances in one test, instead of measuring the concentration of a few individual substances, as was previously the case. Looking a bit further into the future, we think there is potential in our technique when it comes to measuring chemicals in soil and sediment that are hazardous to our health or the environment,” explains Johan.
A new way of assessing chemical hazards
According to both Agneta and Johan, it takes time to launch a new method or a new way of thinking. What BioCell Analytica offers is a whole new way of assessing chemical hazards in water.
“Protecting people’s health and our environment is essential. Being able to protect water supplies and purify wastewater are two important factors to this end. The water industry, to which we have shifted our focus, is a technology-oriented industry. Our methods have a biological focus. It’s going to take time to get our message out, and it will require a sustained effort on our part. Nevertheless, those within the water industry are very ambitious, and they want to get things right and be brought up to speed about the issues that need resolving,” explains Agneta.
Incentives for further research
Growing the company effectively, boosting volume, increasing awareness of the method, and delivering analytics services are, according to Johan and Agneta, among some of the challenges that lie ahead. As researchers, another constant challenge is learning as you go about how to run a company. This is a challenge that drives Agneta and Johan on.
“Seeing how our methods have a practical value and how they can help in our efforts to solve the problems we face is extremely rewarding. It’s exciting because there is always so much going on. As researchers we are used to investigating the unknown, and doing things that no one has done before. Finding ways to solve problems by identifying practical applications for existing academic findings is something that spurs us on. Society’s expectation of us researchers in taking our research further has increased, and this is extremely motivating,” say Johan and Agneta.
Growth and seeing the methods in use
When it comes to growth of the business, in the next five years they hope that both the wastewater and drinking water sectors will have incorporated the company’s new methods into their routine testing regimes. Further down the line, the hope is that all or at least many of the actors will have incorporated the company’s methods into their testing regimes, and that BioCell Analytica will have enjoyed significant growth.
Advice for other researchers - take your ideas further!
1. Test. Dare to test. Not all ideas are going to lead to a successful company but it’s worth trying them out. It is both interesting and exciting, and you also learn a great deal along the way.
2. Get in touch with SLU Holding and UIC (or a similar incubator). There is an amazingly good innovation support system in Uppsala. This has meant a huge amount for us.
3. Get inspired at Green Innovation Park. Come along to Friday breakfasts, create networks and get inspired.
4. Build a good team. Work in a team of at least two. It’s hard to do everything on your own, so choose a work partner with whom you work together well.
Agneta and Johan believe that it is this final piece of advice that has played a particularly important role in BioCell Analytica’s success.
For more information about BioCell Analytica.