Gregory Penner won the 2014 Julia Levy Award, for successfully commercialising his research on aptamers by selling the world’s first commercial, aptamer based, mycotoxin diagnostic test kit. Aptamers are oligonucleic acid or peptide molecules that bind to a specific target molecule.
Penner and his colleague, Ximena Vedoya, developed aptamers to identify the various proteins in wheat flour, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Wheat flour has huge variability, dependant on varieties and growing conditions, taste and how it performs in breadmaking. There have been sales to Grupo Bimbo in Mexico, the world’s largest bakery, Canada Bread, Health Canada, and testing laboratories in the US, UK and China. As part of the commercialisation process, the NeoVentures team trained all research staff at Grupo Bimbo.
There are many potential applications for aptamers, several of which are covered by current projects with international partners. These include higher sensitivity in cancer detection, greater sensitivity of detection of small molecules in food and heavy metals in ground water and rapid detection of antibiotic resistant bacteria. These and other projects promise fresh business opportunities for further commercialisation. NeoVentures can now claim to be an emerging leader of this broad aptamer technology.