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Mexican product distributor buys rights to sunscreen invented at UA

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Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona

With the 110-degree heat and 300-plus days of sun, it makes sense that new sunscreen technology would come from Tucson. That’s why Tech Launch Arizona helped two University of Arizona scientists get their new sunblock on the market.

The sunscreen technology, created by chemistry professor Douglass Loy and graduate student Stephanie Tolbert, is a natural, aloe-based technology that will not dissolve or penetrate the skin. Recently, a company called Novamex, a vast distributor of Mexican products in the United States, bought the rights to the sunscreen technology.

“The whole goal of Tech Launch Arizona is to work with investigators, to protect the intellectual property of the university and to market it and find licensees to take stuff from the bench to the public,” said Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president for Tech Launch, who is responsible for technology transfer.

One of Novamex’s subsidiaries, MexiAloe Laboratories, is one of the largest distributors of aloe vera in North America. Through prior relationships, the UA received a call from Novamex to work with them.

“They were basically reaching out to the UA to see if we had anything in our portfolio that was kind of a natural product, [or] solution that could be used in health care,” said Paul Eynott, former TLA licensing manager for the College of Science. That was kind of the general ask.”

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TLA evaluated the portfolios, and of the 20 different technologies, the sunscreen technology piqued the interest of Novamex.

“The one that caught their attention, obviously, was the technology that was disclosed to Tech Launch from Douglass Loy, who’s one of the inventors of the sunscreen technology,” Eynott said. 

That was 18 months ago, Eynott said.

The technology was a perfect fit for Novamex, who was looking for a product to give them a stake in aloe vera. According to Eynott, Novamex didn’t have a sunscreen-based product in its portfolio. They thought Loy’s technology could “leverage their stake in aloe vera.”

TLA also funded Loy to make the technology ready for the market.

“Stuff that comes out of the university is very early stage, generally speaking,” Hockstad said. “So, it takes a lot of work to both get it to the market and to find the right partners ... to make it public or end-user product.”

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Paul Tumarkin, senior manager of marketing and communications at TLA, said some technologies are so early stage they might not be market-ready.

Loy worked with TLA to develop the product and get it ready for market. TLA has a “pot of money” from which to “dole out” resources to scientists working on new products, Tumarkin said.

“And in this case, we did that,”  Tumarkin said. “We invested a little bit of money with Doug Loy’s lab to help prepare that technology and to make it a little more market-ready.”

Another aspect of getting the technology licensed was marketing, which generally involves reaching out to key players in the industry. According to Tumarkin, that involves finding, approaching and pitching to the key players.

“We talk to the investigators, and we look at the industry players in that technology area,” Tumarkin said. 

According to Hockstad, it’s a big deal for TLA to be approached by a large company like Novamex or MexiAloe for technology, but it’s no accident.

“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to try and find the right person to talk to, the right industry and the right company,” Hockstad said.


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