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Biochemist up for European inventors’ award



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Ivars Kalvins (Latvia)

Finalist for the European Inventor Award 2015

Ivars Kalvins


Category: Lifetime Achievement

Sector: Medicine/Biochemistry

Company: TopoTarget, Merz, Biolipox

Patent numbers: EP1328510, EP1009732, EP1778632

Invention: Mildronate heart medication and others

As 15th-century alchemist Paracelsus once said: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start with nature and an open mind.” Accordingly, the Latvian scientist and inventor Ivars Kalvins has dedicated his research career to the improvement of medicine through chemicals found in nature.

Chemical substance As the Head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis in Riga, Kalvins spearheaded the development of a new generation of drug compounds, based on biochemistry.

During his 45-year career at the institute, Kalvins headed the development of commercially available drugs including: the anticancer drug Belinostat, the neuroprotectant Neramexane, the anti-inflammatory compound OX-MPI, and cardioprotector Mildronate. Patented inventions from Kalvins’ laboratory have been licensed and made available to patients by international pharmaceutical companies including Prolifix Ltd, Biolipox, Merz Pharma GmbH, and Grindeks.

Societal benefit

The targeted use of natural compounds – as opposed to artificially created chemicals – is the foundation of Kalvins’ approach. He successfully brought to market drugs based on natural compounds to treat and prevent strokes, tinnitus, heart attacks, Alzheimer disease, as well as chronic pain and inflammation.

Kalvins’ inventions have proven especially beneficial for the prevention and treatment of ischemic heart disease and stroke, currently the world’s topmost causes of death with 7.4 million and 6.7 million victims in 2012, respectively, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Economic benefit

Kalvins’ biggest success story to date is meldonium, medicinal name Mildronate, an efficient drug against heart disease. Manufactured and marketed by Latvian pharmaceuticals company Grindeks, Mildronate ranks among Latvia’s most successful medical exports: it generated an export turnover of around €60–70 million in 2013, with a share of 0.6% to 0.7% of all Latvian exports.

Founded in 1991, publicly listed company Grindeks now employs around 1000 people and in 2013 reported revenues of €118.5 million – the lion’s share from sales of Mildronate. Other breakthroughs include the anti-cancer drug Belinostat, approved by the FDA in 2014 and licensed by US pharmaceutical company Spectrum. Kalvins also developed the neuroprotectant Neramexane licensed by Merz Pharmaceuticals, currently undergoing phase III clinical trials for treatment of Alzheimer disease, and the anti-inflammatory OX-MPI, currently advanced into clinical practice by Orexo and Boehringer Ingelheim.

  • Ivars Kalvins

    Ivars Kalvins

  • Ivars Kalvins

    Ivars Kalvins

  • Ivars Kalvins
  • Ivars Kalvins

    Ivars Kalvins

  • Ivars Kalvins

    Ivars Kalvins

How it works:

All of Kalvins’ breakthrough inventions are based on a similar principle: the potential of chemicals to trigger a desired response within the human body. The right chemicals administered at the right dosage can serve as an “off switch” to stop a damaging cycle and re-establish the natural balance within the human body.

One such natural compound identified by Kalvins is named meldonium. It helps to suppress the oxidation of fatty acids in the body’s energy metabolism, which is a major cause of toxic by-products that collect in the heart’s tissue – ultimately leading to heart attacks. By eliminating toxic side products and increasing oxygen supply to the cells, meldonium restores balance to the body’s energy metabolism.

The inventor:

In 1969, Ivars Kalvins earned his degree from the chemical faculty of the University of Latvia in Riga. Intrigued by the potential of naturally occurring compounds, Kalvins joined the Institute of Organic Synthesis, founded by academician S. A. Giller, who became his mentor. In 2003, the prodigy succeeded his mentor as the director of the institute. At age 67, Kalvins has published 650 academic papers and contributed to more than 215 patents in the field of biomedicine. His tireless work on “immunochemistry” helped to establish his Department of Medicinal Chemistry as an internationally connected think tank for pharmaceutical research.

Did you know?

As Paracelsus also said: “All substances are poisons… The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy.” In that light, the neurotransmitter glutamate supports memory and learning in the human brain when it is at healthy levels. But at elevated concentrations, glutamate becomes toxic, leading to cell death and diseases such as Alzheimers. This is exactly where Ivars Kalvinsh’s neuroprotectant drug Neramexane comes in. Based on natural ingredients, the drug acts as an “off switch” to the accumulation of excessive levels of glutamate on the brain’s NMDA receptors, thereby restoring a healthy balance.

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