The development of hydrogels and their application in the form of Hemagel ® is undoubtedly one of the world achievements of the scientists from the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The discovery of a method for producing soft contact lenses from hydrogel brought Prof. Otto Wichterle, the founder of the Institute, worldwide recognition.
Organic chemist Ing. Jiří Labský, CSc. together with his colleagues Ing. J. Vacík, CSc. P. Hošek, M.D., were behind the discovery of a hydrogel with anti-inflammatory effect, which gave rise to a unique medicinal product for easier wound healing with the trade name Hemagel ®.
The uniqueness of Hemagel® is due to its ability to bind reactive oxygen radicals while providing wet wound healing, which has enabled a completely new way of treating chronic and acute wounds and reducing healing time. However, the path of a research result to humans is not a straightforward one, and Hemagel ® is no exception.
The long journey
Otto Wichterle’s collaborators Ing. Labský and Ing. Vacík began researching hydrogels for contact lenses as early as the 1960s. In the 1980s, their research focused on the development of new materials that would enable the production of soft contact lenses to protect the eye from UV radiation. The results of the research showed that combining hydrogels with free oxygen radical scavengers not only protected the eye from UV radiation, but also accelerated the healing of the damaged eye.
They gradually modified the initial hydrogel in such a way that it helped to accelerate healing even in acute and chronic wounds. In 1997, the two scientists culminated their long-term research by filing a patent application.
In 2004, the authors were granted patent CZ293419 entitled Preparation for the prevention and healing of inflammatory diseases. Subsequently, the Institute also patented the invention in the USA, Canada, Japan and the European Union.
After the patent was granted, the ÚMCH needed to find a suitable industrial partner for the production of the new product. In the case of Hemagel ®, the offer of cooperation was directed mainly to domestic companies.
In 2003, the license to the Hemagel ® patent was acquired by the Czech company Chemopharma. The product was manufactured under the trade name Spofagel. However, the company went bankrupt in 2005. Fortunately, thanks to properly set contractual terms, the licence could subsequently be offered to other interested parties.
A new licence agreement was concluded in 2006 and the Czech company WAKE spol. s r.o. became the rights holder. In 2014, VH Pharma a.s. joined as a further licensee.
Collaboration for production
First, an option agreement was concluded for a period of 6 months. During this period, the company’s employees, under the guidance of scientists from the Institute of Medical Research, got acquainted with the process of preparation of active hydrogel in laboratory conditions and at the same time negotiations on the terms of cooperation were held.
This was followed by the signing of an exclusive license agreement granting the company the exclusive right to manufacture and sell Hemagel ® in all countries where the patent provides legal protection.
At the same time, he started the process of transferring the research results into production practice. Scientists who had extensive experience in synthesising the product under laboratory conditions were actively involved in helping the industrial partner find ways to convert the processes used to produce a few grams of the product into processes suitable for producing tens of kilograms. Through their combined efforts, within about a year, they were able to develop and optimise technological processes that ensured reproducible production of the product, opening its path to consumers.
The cooperation between scientists and industrial partner is commented by Mr. Ing. Bohumil Hána, Chairman of the Board of Directors of VH Pharma a.s.: “For our company, the innovativeness of manufactured products is the basis and a significant benefit. At the same time, production must be feasible in an industrial environment while maintaining efficiency. The transfer from the laboratory environment to industrial production is always very complicated and costly, but with the support and experience of the ICH staff we have always managed to implement it so far. The result is then the production of safe and highly functional products whose uniqueness helps them to establish themselves more quickly in this hyper-competitive market”.
“It is nice to do basic research, but when you see that what you invent and bring into production works in practice, you have a completely different feeling”, says the Head of the Controlled Macromolecular Synthesis Department Ing. Zdeňka Sedláková, CSc., who was responsible for the transfer of the result into production and delivers it: “For new cases, we make extensive use of our experience from the launch of Hemagel ®. However, we do not apply a template solution in the case of transferring results, as every case is original.”
We don’t stop with one product
Scientists from the Institute of Medical Research in cooperation with VH Pharma a.s. continue to develop new forms of this commercially successful product. The Institute holds two more patents for new products for the prevention and healing of inflammatory diseases. The licensee is VH Pharma a.s. Pre-clinical and clinical trials of these new products are currently underway. Upon completion (if all goes well), the products will be referred to SÚKL for registration and eventually marketed by the manufacturer.
Hemagel ® is now sold in 30 countries worldwide. Hopefully, the new products will also find their place on the market not only in the Czech Republic, but also in the world.