Curing Zirconia: nanotech firm buys Ca’ Foscari’s patent


Mesoporous zirconium nanoparticles which can deliver diagnosis and cures for specific illnesses were synthesized and developed by researchers of the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems at Ca’ Foscari. This extremely promising invention was purchased by a nanotech firm specialized in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, launching a new collaboration with the university.

The developed zirconium particles are non-toxic and can transport pharmaceutical molecules and improve therapy when a progressive release of the active substance is best. Mesoporous zirconium nanoparticles appear to be perfect to substitute silicium with production advantages and to be more efficient in therapy. New applications could be found in diagnosis and cancer treatment.

“The patented material proved to hold significant qualities for medical applications - explained Gabriele Sponchia, research fellow at Ca’ Foscari and co-inventor with professors Alvise Benedetti and Pietro Riello. - The medical applicability and biocompatibility of zirconium based materials was known for decades, for instance in prosthetic surgery. However zirconium nanoparticles characterized by a large superficial area were not available, which can be used as inorganic carriers for drug delivery, for theranostic medicine - i.e. suitable for diagnostic and cure - as well as for prevention and treatment of specific illnesses”.

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice decided to protect the invention by submitting an Italian patent application, delivered by the Italian Patent and Trademark Office with an international extension.

Benedetti’s, Riello’s and Sponchia’s mesoporous zirconium was the first patent ever developed by Ca’ Foscari and passed to a firm for an industrial development of the product. The proceeds will be shared between the inventors who will be able to decide if leaving their share to research funds and to Ca’ Foscari, to support research activities and technology transfer.

Why did the university submit a patent? “The “third mission”, which includes technology transfer, became a fundamental goal for universities which must act to maximize the impact of research on the socio-economic fabric”, explained Vladi Finotto, Rector Delegate for intellectual property rights, entrepreneurship and technology transfer. “If the inventors had published their results without seeking legal support, anyone could have benefitted from their invention. And in practice nobody would have benefitted from it: which firm would invest money in the development of an innovative product without the competitive edge provided by a patent? In our case the firm was able to invest in university research thanks to the patent and the researchers’ vision, to enhance the outcome of research and creating new innovative products that would otherwise have remained in labs”.

The firm Brenta Slr believed right away in the potential of this technology, purchasing the patent and developing a collaboration with the university for a joint development of the invention. Involved in research in nanotechnologies and the development of technological platforms for pharmaceutical applications, the startup is part of the F.I.S. Holding, Fabbrica Italiana Sintetici SpA, with headquarters in Montecchio Maggiore (Vicenza), specialized in active substances production for the most important international pharmaceutical industries.

The relationship with the firm managed and supported by the Knowledge transfer and relationship with Firms and Pink (Promoting Innovation and Knowledge) at Ca’ Foscari facilitated the purchase of the patent and the beginning of an innovative collaboration. Synergies which can be generated will increase the positive impact of technology transfer and supporting the processes of higher learning.

Gabriele Sponchia will participate to the PhD Welcome Day at Ca’ Foscari, sharing his experience with the new PhD candidates. Find the complete programme of the event: