Interview: Dr. Patrizia Melpignano
Scientific Director and CEO, Or-El d.o.o.
In our exclusive Q&A with Dr. Patrizia Melpignano, she introduces us to her company Or-El, talks about the project and shares insights into her experience with the Open Call. If you're curious about how the program has made a difference in her project, read on and learn more about what it takes to apply to the Open Call.
What was the inspiration behind establishing the company Or-El?
OR-EL d.o.o. is a Slovenian SME which I started 12 years ago. I was looking for a new application for organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) beyond just displays and illumination. The specific properties of these light sources make them really interesting in the field of diagnostics. Over the years, we tested the system for different applications (human, veterinary and food control) with excellent results. Or-El now concentrates on the food safety field where we're currently developing a point-of-care diagnostic system based on our patented platform. At the moment, we are focused on developing a test for the detection of mycotoxins in food and feed.
How did you find out about the MIH and the Open Call?
I heard about the Open Call through our scientific and technical collaborations with Joanneum Research. I found out that the program offered the possibility to interact and work with a group of companies and research organizations working in the field of microfluidics. After gathering information from the MIH website and careful investigation, I finally decided to apply.
What was your motivation for applying to the Open Call?
When I applied to the Open Call, I was drawn to the possibility of interacting with companies and research organizations whose expertise cover the relevant processes involved in the production of a microfluidic chip, including chip production and bio-probes deposition on a transparent plastic substrate. The broad spectrum of scientific and technical competences of the MIH partners has been crucial for me to envision the successful development of the microfluidic chip for my specific application.
How did you find the application process?
I initially found the application process relatively complex. However, I now believe that this procedure is necessary for the MIH to better understand the real needs of the project and select the right partners for collaboration.
What is the project duration, total budget, and your company's cash contribution?
The expected project duration is 8 months with a total budget of 64.063 Euro and a company cash contribution of 6.016 Euro (9% of the total budget).
What would you say the Open Call specifically provides you with which you would not have achieved on your own?
The program is helping me find the best solution for a true point-of-care diagnostic system to be run in the field. In the past I used a manual operated cartridge which stored the reagents in some reservoirs on the cartridge itself. Unfortunately, this manual fluidic operation was not reproducible and affected the analysis results. The new microfluidic system being developed in the frame of this project will overcome this problem by allowing consistent reproducible steps in the analysis with a completely automatized procedure independent of the operator. Through the program, the final diagnostic system developed – microfluidic cartridge, portable pumping unit and portable reader- will be a true point-of-care.
The MIH introduced your problem to its 20 members whose capabilities and expertise cover the entire microfluidics value chain, what's your view on accessing a wide range of services through a single entry point?
The development of the diagnostic system is truly a multidisciplinary task and the MIH partners offer a complete panel of such competences to arrive at a final product. To have all the needed competences through a single entry point is an enormous advantage. This enables us to organize the development work in the best possible way and prevents us from wasting time in search of external competences.
How do you feel about the current state of your project with the MIH?
I'm very satisfied with the work organization. The current state of my project is in line with the pre-defined time schedule, and there is a very efficient exchange of technical information and product samples necessary to run the planned experimental activities.
What are your plans after the program?
I intend to show the prototypes to already identified potential customers and to prospective investors. If the opportunity to quickly enter into the market presents itself, I plan to use the manufacturing and production capabilities of some of the MIH project partners. I think that the possibility to very quickly enter the market with innovative solutions is the strongest advantage of this program.
What would you advice other projects interested in applying to the Open Call?
I strongly urge companies with innovative ideas in the field of microfluidics to apply to the Open Call. They will find the right partners to develop the best solution for their specific needs as well as the possibility to produce their innovative microfluidic chips in a relatively short time. I recommend that they present a very clear and detailed technical request in order to allow the MIH partners to understand their real needs and to involve the right partners for collaboration. I would also advice interested applicants to have a clear idea of the market and product viability of their intended application - this will strengthen the credibility of their proposal and increase their chances of receiving project funding.
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