Projects were presented to a workshop held by FAPESP and Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC) at the end of October (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Entrepreneurs from São Paulo and Mexico exchange information on technology to combat arboviral diseases

12 de novembro de 2019

By André Julião  |  FAPESP Innovative R&D – The challenges of combating arboviral (arthropod-borne) diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, zika and chikungunya are being addressed not only by scientists but also by entrepreneurs. In Brazil and Mexico, where these diseases transmitted by insect bites are widespread, innovative products are being developed to combat the vector mosquito Aedes aegypti.

Some of these products were presented at the end of October at a workshop held by FAPESP and the International Development Research Center (IDRC), a funding agency that invests in research in developing countries as part of Canada’s international aid program.

“The meeting saw a fruitful exchange between entrepreneurs and scientists supported by FAPESP in São Paulo and IDRC in Mexico. Partnering with Latin American foundations and agencies is a top priority for us. Hence, the strategic importance of our work with FAPESP,” said Roberto Bozzano, Senior Program Specialist, IDRC.

Companies in São Paulo supported by funding from FAPESP via its Innovative Research in Small Business (PIPE) program are developing technologies to combat the mosquito, one of many strategic actions – according to experts – in the fight against arboviral diseases.

Rodrigo Perez, CEO of BR3, presented on DengueTech, a biolarvicide based on bacteria that are known to kill insect larvae but are not toxic for humans or animals. FAPESP supported the project via the PIPE-PAPPE Grant program, a partnership with FINEP, the Brazilian government’s innovation agency.

The product was developed jointly with Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), an agency of the Brazilian Health Ministry, and is available on the market. It is based on a modified form of the bacterium Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) and can be applied in tablet form wherever the mosquito breeds, including water tanks, flower pots and even drinking water.

“The product is highly selective for A. aegypti and doesn’t affect other species, such as bees, for example,” Perez said. “It’s designed for both public health campaigns and household use, converting small breeding grounds into traps against the mosquito. This control can be done sustainably and preventively all year round to suppress the disease vector.” One small DengueTech tablet remains effective for up to 60 days.

Biodegradable insecticides

AMS is a technology developed by Matlabs, a startup based in Sorocaba, São Paulo State. It is also applied to potential mosquito breeding grounds, where it kills eggs, pupae and larvae by forming a film on top of the water to prevent the insect from developing. The research was supported by FAPESP.

The liquid consists of natural compounds and is dispensed using a dosing pump programmed to release enough to protect the water before the product degrades.

“The technology is an insecticide that can be used in drinking water systems. The difference between this product and others is that it doesn’t intoxicate the insect but promotes its death by what we call primarily physical action. It’s still in the experimental phase, mainly to assure safe application, but the active ingredients are biodegradable and don’t contaminate the environment,” said Gedeão Klarosk Perez, who founded the firm.

The development of alternative insecticides is important because the products now on the market contain pollutants and eventually induce strong resistance in mosquitos. One of the technologies presented to the workshop was developed precisely to measure this resistance.

Resistance test

In a research project conducted in 130 cities across Brazil, scientists at Promip, a startup based in Engenheiro Coelho, São Paulo State, found that mosquito resistance varied from one city to another. They concluded that before deciding which insecticide to use in public health campaigns, it would be best to identify the product to which the mosquito is least resistant in the area concerned.

At the request of the Health Ministry and with FAPESP’s support, the firm developed a test that measures insect resistance to various commercially available products so that the one best suited to each city can be chosen.

“We collected mosquito eggs in the field and took them to the laboratory for testing. One particular molecule drew our attention because while killing few eggs, it had the same action mechanism as a widely used product in campaigns to combat the mosquito throughout Brazil,” said Guilherme Trivelatto, Promip’s vector management consultant.

Insect repellents

Some firms and research groups are also developing novel insect repellents. Nanomed, based in São Carlos, São Paulo State, has developed an essential oil controlled release system for use in mosquito repellents. The product is awaiting approval by ANVISA, Brazil’s national public health surveillance agency, so that it can be marketed.

“The active principle is entirely novel for this kind of application. It uses nanotechnology for slow release into the skin and affords lasting protection,” said Amanda Luizetto dos Santos, a founding partner of the firm supported by FAPESP and by FINEP via the PAPPE/PIPE Grant program.

Encapsulation of citronella, another essential oil, is the focus for a project supported by FAPESP and conducted by Vânia Rodrigues Leite e Silva, a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo’s Institute of Environmental, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences (ICAQF-UNIFESP) at Diadema.

Another firm, Chemyunion, is performing computer simulations to create molecules with the potential to serve as active principles for novel repellents. Out of 100,000 candidate compounds, the researchers selected five and will test them shortly.

Transgenic mosquito lines

In addition to entrepreneurs and researchers affiliated with UNIFESP, scientists at the University of São Paulo (USP) also presented research relating to the fight against A. aegypti.

“It’s necessary to have integrated control. No single approach can combat all these diseases. However, eradication [of the mosquito] is a central part of the control effort,” said Margareth Capurro, a professor at USP’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB) who is developing transgenic mosquito lines to control arboviral diseases.

According to Capurro, in addition to eradication, it is necessary to educate the public, develop vaccines, eliminate potential breeding grounds such as old tires, bottles and garbage dumps, and use larvicides and insecticides (read more at:

Insecticide paint and netting

Mexican researchers supported by IDRC presented a paint product that releases insecticide and is encapsulated using nanotechnology, protecting homes and public schools for at least 18 months. The speakers were Dr. Jorge Méndez, a researcher at Federico Gómez Children's Hospital in Mexico City, and Mauro Corral, an engineer with Codequim S.A. Both are analyzing the effectiveness and safety of the product before seeking approval for sale in Mexico.

Another IDRC-funded project was presented by Pablo Manrique and Norma Pavia, researchers at the University of Yucatán in Mérida; Rosa Mendez Vales, representing the Yucatán Department of Health; and Alfonso Flores Leal, representing the Monterrey-based firm Public Health Supply and Equipment de Mexico S.A. They have developed insecticide netting for doors and windows in homes.

The Mexican delegation also included Federico Gómez, a specialist in epidemiology and control of vector-borne diseases, and Erick Azamar Cruz, director of Oaxaca Regional High Specialty Hospital.