Alfasigma, Utopia SIS, the David Chiossone Institute and Club2021 are investing in the start-up launched by the IIT to the value of 6 million euros
Novavido S.r.l. is an innovative start-up launched by IIT, accelerated in the G-Factor incubator of the Golinelli Foundation, which is proposing the development of a new and potentially revolutionary therapy for retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration: the artificial liquid retina. The proposal is based on the results of a research project developed in IIT over the course of 10 years by the Center for Nano Science and Technology (CNST-IIT Milano) led by Guglielmo Lanzani, and the Center for Synaptic Neuroscience and Technology (NSYN-IIT Genova) led by Fabio Benfenati, in collaboration with Grazia Pertile and Maurizio Mete from the Sacro Cuore Don Calabria Hospital in Negrar, Verona.
Thanks to an initial investment from Alfasigma, Utopia SIS, the David Chiossone Insitute and Club2021 for the sum of 1.4 million euros, and a second investment of approximately 4.5 million after 24 months, depending on positive results and the implementation of the plan and of steps in development – the start-up will, over the next two years, begin the human experimentation stage for the artificial liquid retina.
This technology consists in the injection into the retro-ocular area of a suspension of biocompatible and photoactive polymer nanoparticles that react to light and substitute the damaged photoreceptors, restoring stimulation of the retina neurons that send visual information to the brain. This technique is bolstered by the encouraging experimental results obtained during pre-clinical testing published in 2020 in the prestigious international scientific magazine Nature Nanotechnology. The artificial liquid retina does not require the wearing of any form of glasses, cameras or power sources, and is administered locally, as a pharmaceutical, via injection, allowing for a brief and relatively non-traumatic operation.
The operational team at Novavido S.r.l. is composed of Giovanni Manfredi (CEO) and Sara Perotto, both expert IIT researchers in the field of nanomaterials, and three scientific advisors, Fabio Benfenati (NYSN – IIT), Guglielmo Lanzani (CNST – IIT) and Grazia Pertile, the head of ophthalmology at the Sacro Cuore Don Calabria Hospital in Negrar. The team will benefit from collaboration with experts from the Alfasigma laboratories coordinated by Dr. Emilio Merlo Pich, the director of Research and Development for Alfasigma.
Once the technology has been validated in initial clinical trials, the start-up, which has concluded a licensing contract for the use of 3 patents deposited during the research activity carried out by IIT and the Sacro Cuore Hospital, will follow patients from the preliminary phases to final rehabilitation and, in the meantime, will continue research in order to optimise this treatment and perfect other solutions to deal with the various neurodegenerative diseases that affect sight.
“The setting up of Novavido is a perfect example of how research is aimed at improving quality of life for people, aligning with the goals of social sustainability that an ever-more inclusive society should be focusing on. The technology developed in our laboratories has reached a level of maturity that now attracts significant private funding”,commented Giorgio Metta, the scientific director of IIT. “The institute therefore fully demonstrates the fulfilment of its dual mission: to carry out high-level research of international importance and transfer the fruits of scientific activity to the market, with a clear impact on the social fabric of our country that favours economic development”.
“We are extremely satisfied with the completion of this operation and honoured by the trust that our partners have placed in our project, which proposes to apply the artificial retina to humans. The interest created and the calibre of the people involved is a positive driving force in transforming Novavido S.r.l. into a successful business. This initiative is an example of all-Italian synergy between figures from a range of areas working together for a common goal. It is the result of collaboration between public research, industrial research, the health system, figures from the business and financial sectors and patients’ associations. We trust that the close collaboration between the many parties involved will soon lead to concrete results”, commented the founders of the Novavido start-up Giovanni Manfredi, Guglielmo Lanzani and Fabio Benfenati.
“Alfasigma’s investment in Novavido is a clear sign of its faith in technological innovation and for start-up team accelerated by G-Factor. Alfasigma is proud to contribute to the development of projects, lending its own expertise and specific knowledge to the development of innovative therapies”, commented Stefano Golinelli, president of Alfasigma S.p.A.
“Utopia is beginning with its initial investment, in awareness of its role as a financial investor with smart money, in other words the qualified and specialised finance necessary for the development of challenging and ground-breaking research projects. Doing so with an excellent team and with investors of such high standing is a source of pride”, stated Antonio Falcone, Executive Vice President of Utopia SIS.
“It is an important commitment and a source of great satisfaction for the Chiossone Institute to be able to participate in the setting up of Novavido S.r.l. It is an opportunity to bring to fruition our years of research into identifying valid candidates for visual prosthetics. We will be contributing to the Novavido project with our profound knowledge of blindness and its psychological aspects, and with our more than thirty years of experience in the clinical rehabilitation of the blind and visually impaired. We are aware of the need to develop method protocols for the suitable selection of candidates for implants and define the successive training process aimed at optimising recovered sight following implants. This intervention allows Chiossone, which is a non-profit organisation, to play an active role in a company, with an investment of 200 thousand euros – part of a bequest – in the hope that the success of the company and the efficiency of the implant represent a true turning point for the visually impaired”, stated Claudio Cassinelli, president of the David Chiossone ONLUS Institute.
“For us, Novavido represents the ideal type of project to focus on from now onwards: once again we have invested in the highest levels of scientific quality, in this case guaranteed by a research centre of excellence such as IIT.At the same time, the process applied in setting up the deal is a reference model to maintain for the future. I furthermore trust that this model can be replicated and shared throughout the country; “research, business and finance” and “public, private and private-social” “side by side on the starting line”. An even rarer combination, but one that has managed to demonstrate its feasibility. We have managed to understand each other and – through fruitful mediation – to balance our respective prerogatives in the name of development and the main goal of the new company Novavido, and we now have the impression that this is the right direction to move in”, stated Antonio Danieli, Vice President of the Golinelli Foundation and Sole Director of G-Factor S.r.l.
For further information: Maya-Vetencourt, J.F., Manfredi, G., Mete, M. et al. Subretinally injected semiconducting polymer nanoparticles rescue vision in a rat model of retinal dystrophy. Nat. Nanotechnol. 15, 698–708 (2020).