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February 8, 2016 Issue

The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information


Marine Based Chemical Product that is Antimicrobial, Kills Bacteria and Prevents Biofilm from Forming for the Shipping, Healthcare and Consumer Products Industries



Dr. Marilyn Bruno

PhD., J.D., Founder & CEO


Aequor, Inc.


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – February 8, 2016


CEOCFO: Dr. Bruno, would you tell us the idea behind Aequor?

Dr. Bruno: The name Aequor means “the sea” and it is because our founder, Cynthia Burzell, hypothesized in 2001 that there had to be a natural mechanism in the ocean that was inhibiting bacterial formation and fouling on surfaces in contact with water. Sure enough, she collected surface slimes and extracted novel microbes that were producing chemicals inhibiting the attachment of foulers. These same chemicals inhibit the ability of bacteria to colonize on and in our bodies by blocking their ability to form biofilm.


CEOCFO: Why do we care about this?

Dr. Bruno: We’re losing the war on bacteria and Aequor has discovered an arsenal of new chemical agents to fight back against contamination, fouling, and infection in a new way. Most bacteria attach to a surface and form a protective matrix called biofilm to protect the underlying colony. Biofilm is everywhere, and no known antimicrobial or antibiotic can penetrate it at non-lethal doses. The only remedies are physical removal: scraping or burning/sterilization. We have biofilm on our teeth which is called dental plaque. You can brush and swish with an antiseptic, but you have to have it scraped off regularly. The same principle is true of all biofilm -- on all surfaces. Industrial bacteria cause corrosion, scale, contamination, fouling, and increased costs. Medical bacteria cause infection. Many surfaces, including human tissues, can’t be scraped or burned. Biofilm that forms in the lungs leads to cystic fibrosis. 90% of hospital acquired infections are caused by biofilm. Now it turns out that every single drug-resistant bacteria and Superbug is a biofilm former and nothing on the market penetrates biofilm -- except Aequor’s newly discovered chemicals.


CEOCFO: Would you tell us about the product?
Dr. Bruno:
Aequor has a portfolio of natural active agents that inhibit bacterial infection, contamination, and fouling. Since we couldn’t file patents in the U.S. on the natural chemicals that Cynthia discovered, we had to synthesize them, which was very expensive and took a long time. We are now determining which of the synthesized chemicals are most appropriate for medical uses, and which are more appropriate for industrial and consumer uses. Aequor is a women-owned small business and is looking for partners and licensees that can develop the end use products using our new “biobased” chemicals to improve water and food safety, save fuel and cut emissions, and save lives. The National Institutes of Health has selected Aequor for a new program to accelerate commercialization of one of its active agents as a new drug candidate. They will start preclinical trials soon, which is terribly exciting.


CEOCFO: Are the synthesized versions just as good?

Dr. Bruno: Yes, and some are even better. In Nature, these chemicals are at a low dilution to simply inhibit the attachment of bacteria and foulers or to remove bacteria and fouling. When purified, they are very potent. The synthetic molecules are equally potent and now we are testing them at lower and lower concentrations to achieve the same antibacterial and antifouling results without harming any plant or animal life. But some also kill the target -- making them new drug candidates.


CEOCFO: What is it about these particular chemicals that work?

Dr. Bruno: Our chemicals penetrate and remove biofilm. This is unique. Antibiotics such as Penicillin, for example, kill bacteria that are free-floating, but cannot penetrate biofilm. In fact, nothing on the market can penetrate biofilm at non-lethal doses. There have been few incentives for the discovery of new medical remedies because it is an eight-year long and about a billion-dollar FDA approval process. The Pharma companies usually acquire new technologies -- like silver ion coatings for medical devices. Unfortunately, they do not work as well as our product to inhibit biofilm and they don’t remove existing biofilm.


CEOCFO: How have you approached potential partners so far? Is it easy to get an audience?

Dr. Bruno: I have a business background and know that it is important to talk to the right people. We have been successful attending tradeshows, and if Aequor was lucky enough to have won a booth, panel speaker slot, or a poster presentation at a tradeshow, many of the big companies attend these to scout for new technologies. I have also met some companies by networking. Aequor is a tiny company but with a great advisory board. We chose advisors who had expertise in each of our target markets, and the advisors helped to make introductions. It is the only way that we were able to get to the right people. Some of the biggest companies in industry, consumer and Pharma sectors are anxious to get samples of our chemicals to test.


CEOCFO: What is it about the chemicals you have developed that allows the process to work?

Dr. Bruno: Cynthia first found novel chemicals that were active against biofilm and then worked backwards to determine what those chemicals were. This is different from what many Pharma companies do. For example, Pharma companies typically screen existing chemicals for a new use but those screens many never result in a good candidate. Once she isolated the natural marine chemicals, we would have gone into business right then and there but the U.S. patent office disallows patenting anything found in Nature. We thought that unless we synthesized the novel chemicals we would be vulnerable to intellectual property piracy. We hired the experienced chemists who could do natural product synthesis; it is a specialized field and they were successful. Now they have developed a portfolio of synthetic chemicals, analogues, and similar molecules. They all have a simple chemical structure that is easy to produce in large quantities. Our excellent lawyers are now getting ready to file comprehensive patents that we hope will be able to protect our discoveries.


CEOCFO: Where do you see the potential traction?

Dr. Bruno: Wherever bacteria grows, there is a problem that we can solve. Wherever huge amounts of toxic disinfectants and antibacterials are being used, this is polluting the planet. Many antimicrobials and disinfectants are being banned, so we see ourselves as filling an important need for something new and “green” that works alone or that can boost the performance of existing products at lower doses. Our chemicals provide a way to block the ability of bacteria to proliferate. There are many industrial uses. For example, ship hulls that are fouled by the attachment of barnacles, mussels and algae, up to 50% more fuel is needed to overcome the drag. This fouling originates with bacterial biofilm and this is what initiated Cynthia’s research. Our product works very well against fouling, so it could be added to a marine paint for the hulls of every ship at sea. On the consumer side, our chemicals can be used in anything from toothpaste to shoe deodorant and personal hygiene products where we are not making health claims. On the medical side, the need is significant. We can provide new antibiofilm chemicals for use in coatings for clinical surfaces such as instruments, implants, and catheters, as well as for wound treatments. MRSA and the Superbugs are biofilm-forming bacteria that we can nip in the bud.


CEOCFO: Are there specific areas where you see challenges?

Dr. Bruno: Investors are enticed to invest in new smart phone apps and stem cell research, which sound exciting. We have not been able to attract the interest of most angel investors because they have never heard of biofilm. Angel investors also want to invest in companies that already have revenues and a management team. Aequor is building a great team, which is not easy without a lot of money. We are getting there by paying people in equity. Cynthia and I own most of the company so we are happy to offer great incentives to attract the top people that will help ensure Aequor’s success.


CEOCFO: Are you looking primarily in the US or globally?

Dr. Bruno: We are looking globally. We won a major international competition that was sponsored by MIT in Portugal. Aequor was the only US company chosen that was competing for funding from a Portuguese Bank sponsor. We did not win the cash but we did get the boot camp training, which was nine months of perfecting and validating our go-to-market plan. We have established “Aequor, Ltd.” in London to be able to apply for a European Union grant. The EU is much more motivated than the U.S. to provide incentives to find replacements for the toxic biocides and develop environmentally sustainable products, as well as discover new drugs.


CEOCFO: How do you deal with some of the frustration in knowing you have something that could potentially make such a difference and yet it is a complicated process to get in use?
Dr. Bruno:
I think what fuels us is that Cynthia is a scientist who made a breakthrough discovery, and she is not letting go of this for anything. She is a world expert in biofilm will be doing this sort of research for the rest of her life. I have had a fabulous multi-career background in business, finance, and law, so I am happy to contribute any expertise I have to this important venture. Cynthia is also my daughter. When she first said she had a potential anti-fouling remedy, I knew the huge market potential. I had been working for the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Service officer promoting the United Nations’ Anti-fouling Convention, which banned one of the most toxic biocides used in antifouling marine paint. I witnessed how the biggest paint manufacturers were falling over themselves to find alternatives for the banned biocide. I realized that this was a very big market and I was delighted that Cynthia’s discoveries could solve the antifouling problem, and the water, food safety, energy, consumer, and medical problems as well. I have to say I am fueled by wanting to see Aequor succeed on many levels, but I am not going to put family or friends’ money at risk or try and raise angel investments if I were not completely convinced that this is a disruptive and groundbreaking discovery. Certainly the NIH program that Aequor was admitted into and other third party testing is validating that. We will get there.


CEOCFO: Why pay attention right Aequor right now?

Dr. Bruno: The unmet need for new remedies for bacterial contamination and infection is huge. The CDC attributes 90% of hospital-acquired infections to biofilm -- which is just beginning to be recognized as a main problem of healthcare that is affecting all of us. It is also a national security problem at this point because of the insidious nature of the Superbugs. The more that they are stressed with antibiotics, the more they mutate, so you need something that is going to block their ability to colonize in the first place. We are excited to have that product, and hope that we can explain it more clearly perhaps than we have been doing to attract the investment dollars that we need.


“We’re losing the war on bacteria and Aequor has discovered an arsenal of new chemical agents to fight back against contamination, fouling, and infection in a new way.” - Dr. Marilyn Bruno


Aequor, Inc.


Marilyn Bruno








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