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University of Newcastle spins off antioxidant, withoutIP fights

An antioxidant supplement using only apples and water had sales of nearly $100,000 in its first quarter after it was created by a University of Newcastle scientist, in a launch that could be seen as a template for commercial collaboration between universities and start-ups. Dr Vincent Candrawinata claims a world first in using only water to extract activated phenolics – what he calls the "holy grail of antioxidants" – from apples. Antioxidant supplements have to date either been made synthetically or extracted from food using chemical solvents, which Dr Candrawinata blames for recent studies showing they can accelerate cancer growth.

Dr Candrawinata's PhD project at University of Newcastle was to manipulate water molecules so that they could extract phenolics from apples without the ethanol, methanol or acetone usually required. After extracting a 10- kilogram batch of supplement in the lab, he incorporated Renovatio Bioscience in March 2015 and was given free office space and marketing advice by his alma mater's commercialisation arm, Newcastle Innovation.

Dr Vincent Candrawinata, founder of Renovatio, which has produced an organic phenolic antioxidant supplement using only apples and water. Supplied

Importantly he also owns the intellectual property behind his supplements. Disputes around IP are seen as one of the major barriers to lifting Australia's low level of collaboration between universities and business.

"UON is younger and seems to be more flexible when it comes to progressing research," the 27-year-old told The Australian Financial Review.

"Not many PhDs of my age get given free rein with their research. UON helped me shape its aim and purpose but without it becoming part of a bigger scheme where I'd get told what to do."

Knowing stakeholders University commercialisation arms should be "playing a bigger human resources role", said Newcastle Innovation business development officer Yeshesvini Chandar.

"One of the main complaints you hear from businesses trying to get IP off a university shelf is they don't know where to start. I see our role as knowing who all the internal and external stakeholders are, mapping a solution through and facilitating the conversations to make the collaboration happen."

More difficult for Dr Candrawinata was finding a manufacturer "willing to let us rearrange their machines" so that a five-tonne batch of supplement powder could be produced. The first 280-gram jar of it went on sale in March 2016, and it is now available in five countries including Dr Candrawinata's native Indonesia.

Yeshesvini Chandar of Newcastle Innovation, the University of Newcastle's commercialisation arm. She says its relative isolation helps the uni take a more proactive approach to industry collaboration than other institutions. Supplied

Renovatio just completed a seed-funding round, which Dr Candrawinata said only needed to be "high five figures" because of the in-kind support provided by the University of Newcastle, as well as a NSW Department of Primary Industries grant which assisted the founder's research into the patented mix of apples he uses in his supplement.

Second production run

An executive director at Infrastructure NSW, Christian Gillies, is one of two investors sharing a 25 per cent stake in Renovatio Bioscience. The cash was currently funding the company's second five-tonne production run, Dr Candrawinata said, and helped him trademark the phrase "An Apple A Day" for the supplement's new capsule format.

Unlike other antioxidants, Dr Candrawindata claimed activated phenolics pose no risk of pro-oxidation – in which antioxidants, once they have seized free radicals, can become harmfully unstable under certain conditions. "Phenolics are powerful free radical 'scavengers' that cause no harm or negative side-effects. Their level of safety means they are a great option for children," he said.

"Phenolics have three arms free to catch free radicals and, importantly, don't ever become unstable or unsafe in the human body after doing so. Other antioxidants, for example vitamin C, have only one free arm and after collecting a free radical can become unstable – this is known as prooxidant and can do more harm than good."

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