'Green' cosmetics: British start-up invests in Ca' Foscari patent

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and British start-up Mérani have signed an agreement that testifies to the virtuous transfer of knowledge between the world of research and the industry. The agreement was signed on Thursday, 24 February 2022 in Aula Baratto at Ca’ Foscari during the conference “Sustainability in cosmetics. Bridging research, patents and market”, which focussed on the relationship between sustainable research and its enhancement in the cosmetic industry. The conference, which was organised by Ca’ Foscari’s PInK - Promoting Innovation and Knowledge Office, was held in person and online in English.

Professor Tiziana Lippiello, Rector of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, participated in the conference to sign the agreement and to highlight the link between the research conducted at Ca’ Foscari and the surrounding territory. Professor Vladi Finotto, Delegate for Knowledge Transfer, discussed the role that universities play in the transfer of knowledge and of technology and how this role can lead to discoveries and innovation beyond laboratories, resulting in the creation of opportunities for social and economic growth. Lei Li, Executive Director of Mérani, presented the company’s mission and the development of cosmetics thanks to the application of the sustainable research conducted at Ca’ Foscari. Professor Federica Menegazzo described the patent as an example of the enhancement of scientific research at Ca’ Foscari; she also described the path that has led the research of the CatMat group from the lab to the spin-off, in a process leading to the market. The conference also featured a guest lecture by Carla Villa, professor of Cosmetic Products at the University of Genoa, who has specialised in chemistry and technologies for cosmetics and is on the board of directors of SICC - the Italian Society of Chemistry and Cosmetological Sciences. Professor Villa talked about sustainability and the circular economy in cosmetics, offering an overview of the market, of the ‘green economy’ in cosmetics, and of the current state of university research on sustainability in cosmetics.

CatMat, Ca’ Foscari’s research group which develops sustainable materials and processes for the chemical industry, conceived an innovative patent for the production of ‘green’ cosmetic bases, in which the British company Mérani has decided to invest. Mérani is a start-up for skincare belonging to the SABR Partners group, which finds sustainable solutions for the luxury industry. The production process developed in Ca’ Foscari’s laboratories merges technology with sustainability — in fact, it allows for the production of nanostructured matrices that gradually release active ingredients and maximise their efficiency. Moreover, the production process allows for the employment of raw materials and natural functional ingredients, and even of waste material from food processing, according to a circular economy approach. The company will work on finalising the process to place green cosmetics on the market.

“Sustainability is not just the concern of our customers, but also the wider industry audience,” says Vivian Chang, co-founder of Mérani. “Mérani’s collaboration with the University is our answer supported with the most innovative cutting-edge science. It takes more than the private sector to work together to address the challenge, and we are excited that we could partner with such an academic powerhouse to complement MÉRANI’s proprietary research capabilities on the pathway to realise our vision.” 

The CatMat research group has been working at Ca’ Foscari’s Science Campus in Via Torino, Mestre, for years. The group is dedicated to the development of techniques to maximise the efficiency of active molecules for use in various fields, from the pharmaceutical industry to cosmetics, within ‘sustainable’ chemical processes. 

The patented technology has been filed in Italy and the European Union and was developed for sustainable cosmetic formulations and hi-tech thanks to the creation of VeNice, a spin-off founded by Michela Signoretto, professor of industrial chemistry at Ca’ Foscari’s Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems and coordinator of the CatMat research group, as well as by Federica Menegazzo, professor of industrial chemistry at Ca’ Foscari, and by Elena Ghedini, a materials scientist.

“For years I have been conducting research in the development of chemical specialties,” says Professor Signoretto. “Since 2001 I have taught a course on Formulation in order to explain to students how we can make the products that we use every day, even though we do not know their characteristics and properties. This is the context in which the patent was created — it is the product of years of research that was initially conducted in the pharmaceutical field and subsequently moved to cosmetics. In fact, the patent allows to modulate the release of active ingredients with a technology called ‘drug delivery’ which is commonly employed in the pharmaceutical industry and that only recently has been used in cosmetics, as well. We can apply this technology to many products, for example to the ones that aim at reducing the accumulation of fat (such as anti-cellulite treatments).”

The patent

The idea for the patent arose from the CatMat research group (which focuses on heterogeneous catalysis and materials) at Ca’ Foscari’s Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems. It involves an innovative production process to create a cosmetic base composed of natural or waste-derived components, such as coffee grounds or fruit peels, which can release active ingredients in a controlled manner, ensuring that they penetrate the skin in an optimal and efficient way. More specifically, the patented protocol allows for the production of a nanostructured matrix, which is the base of the active ingredients release system. It is split in an organic and an inorganic part, both of which can be obtained from food production waste whenever possible.

Unlike the drug delivery technologies that are currently on the market, which are generally constituted by carriers and nanocarriers that must subsequently be transmitted via a suitable cosmetic base, this patent puts forth a 360° approach that allows to obtain a base or a finished formulation in just a few, easily scalable steps. 

The process also allows the formulation of a finished product, reducing the number of ingredients and raw materials employed, and eliminating the use of some components (such as surfactants) which are usually essential in these types of formulations.

Ca’ Foscari’s PInK - Promoting Innovation and Knowledge Office has supported the enhancement of this invention, following the patenting process and the relationship with the investing company.