Companies and Campus: when research and industry innovate together

When the academic world of research and cutting-edge companies get together, it's a great way to leverage skills and create beneficial collective emulation. The Companies and Campus call for projects contributes fully to this innovation dynamic, as demonstrated by the REGENamel project. Supported by two research structures at the University of Montpellier and the Toulouse-based pharmaceutical and dermo-cosmetics group Pierre Fabre, it is one of the winners of the Montpellier 2022 class.

Collaboration between a research laboratory and the socio-economic world always begins with a first step. A first connection. In fact, when a company contacts a university, it's often because it's faced with a tricky technological challenge. This was the case for the REGENamel project, one of the winners of the Companies and Campus Companies and Campus 2022. Hélène Van Den Berghe, a teacher-researcher at the Institut des biomolécules Max Mousseron (IBMM) in the Polymers for Health and Biomaterials (PHBM) team, specializing in medical devices and macro-molecular engineering, explains the genesis of the project.

" In 2021, one of our former Master's students, who worked at Pierre Fabrecame to us with a problem concerning the group's Oral Care branch, which specializes in oral and dental hygiene," recalls the teacher-researcher. They wanted to try and develop new, innovative formulations, particularly in the area of dental remineralization ". With a major problem: the need to meet the requirements of the Ecocert label, the benchmark for organic and environmental certification, which imposes strict specifications, including the need for Pierre Fabre to use natural products in its formulations.

Encouraging initial results

As it happens, the Polymers for Health and Biomaterials team is mainly interested in " polymers".1 essentially biodegradable polymers for medical applications in the body, including polymer matrices that can be used for everything from toothpaste ". Hélène Van Den Berghe, who works on polymers and natural ingredients, and Xavier Garric, who heads the team, call on a third person: Christophe Hirtz, head of the clinical proteomics platform (CHU-UM). He brings to the project his technical expertise in protein analysis, particularly with regard to saliva and the oral sphere.

Each contributes his or her own know-how, skills and laboratory expertise to meet the needs of an industrial partner who, for its part, masters the art of galenic formulation, i.e. the assembly of ingredients to produce the final preparation. In this case, a pharmaceutical and dermo-cosmetics giant based in the Tarn region of France, with operations in 43 countries and several research centers located on the outskirts of Toulouse. " In June 2021, we began discussions with Pierre Fabre's project manager,HélèneDuplan. Aninitial collaboration, in the form of a student internship from February to July 2022, produced encouraging results, which enabled us to answer a number of questions about the project's feasibility," explains Hélène Van Den Berghe.

A thesis on dental remineralization

In agreement with the Pierre Fabre Group, a request for a Cifre thesis was made to the French National Agency for Research and Technology(ANRT). " The Department of Innovation and Partnerships (DIPA) supported us in negotiating and setting up the thesis contract. In March 2023 Laura Chanard was recruited to prepare a thesis entitled "Development and characterization of innovative solutions for dental remineralization".

Thanks to 34,000 euros in Companies on Campus funding, the team has acquired a rheometer. This is " laboratory equipment for analyzing formulations, particularly in terms of their mechanical properties ". How do you see the timeline for the REGENamel project? Everything will depend on how far the research progresses after the thesis defense, and on how Pierre Fabre integrates the resulting innovations into its product portfolio. In the meantime, everyone will have gained in skills, collective intelligence... and competitiveness.

Companies and Campus: the university of innovation

Launched in 2018 as part of the MUSE initiative, Montpellier Université d'excellence, the Companies and Campus call for projects is then designed to facilitate cooperation between the socio-economic world and research structures. Intended to contribute to the innovation process while acting as a lever for public-private cooperation, the call for projects combines research collaboration with the hosting of employees within research establishments, in close proximity to researchers and students. Companies and campus winners can benefit from funding of up to €50,000.

  1. Polymers are macro-molecules (small molecules that link together to form a very large molecule) found almost everywhere in the human body (proteins or DNA, for example) as well as in many everyday materials such as polyester, PVC and polyurethane.