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"The Pill" for roaches receives patent

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 31 - May 9, 1996

A new, safe, and natural cockroach killer developed at Virginia Tech has passed field trials with flying colors, has received a "green light" from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a "Reduced Risk Pesticide," and was scheduled to be issued patent No. 5,514,681 by the US Patent & Trademark Office on May 7.

"Ecologix (TM) Cockroach Bait" is being developed as an alternative to hard chemicals, said Steve Banegas, president of Dominion BioSciences Inc. of Blacksburg, which has licensed the product from Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. "The bait is in effect a birth-control `pill' for cockroaches," he said.

Termed a nutritional metabolism disrupter (NMD), the product is a composition of xanthine and oxypurinol. Xanthine is found in coffee, potatoes, and other foods; oxypurinol is a metabolite of a medication commonly used to treat gout in humans.

"Oxypurinol, which prevents the formation of uric acid, is safe in the human body," said Heather Wren, who discovered the NMD's effects on cockroaches while working as a research scientist in the Department of Entomology.

Humans don't need uric acid. Cockroaches, however, require uric acid for reproduction and development. They store it as a reserve nutrient in their bodies. Wren, who has since retired, studied the cockroaches' dependence on uric acid, and discovered how to interfere with their metabolism, resulting in what Dominion BioSciences calls the "Birth Control Effect (TM)."

Ecologix (TM) eliminated adult and nymph cockroaches within weeks by stopping reproduction, even after only a few days exposure to the bait.

Experiments at Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University proved the compounds effective even against cockroaches resistant to a suite of insecticides. Field trials have demonstrated that Ecologix (TM) is as effective or more effective than other commercial cockroach baits.

"Our product continues to reduce populations after the other products start losing effectiveness," Banegas reports.

The patent is broad, including other natural compounds still being tested and applications against insects with similar metabolic requirements. Wren and Dominion BioSciences are evaluating the effects of these compounds on termites, ants, and other pest insects.

Meanwhile, Synthons, a start-up firm in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, is making the technical-grade materials for use in Ecologix (TM) against cockroaches. EPA approval for commercial sales as a "Reduced Risk" pesticide is expected in 1997. Dominion BioSciences Inc., an early stage biopesticide company also located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, is seeking partners for co-development and commercialization-specifically international partners with marker leadership positions in relative areas such as urban pest control.