Top 5

AQ Top 5 Latin American Inventors: Gabriela León

A Mexican engineer fighting the spread of viruses.
Walter Shintani

This article is adapted from AQ’s print issue on piracy in Latin America. To see the rest of our list, click here.Leer en español

Ten years ago, Gabriela León found herself helpless as the rotovirus stomach bug tormented her two-year-old son.

León, an industrial biochemical engineer living outside Mexico City, started looking for solutions.

 “We saw that there was an opportunity because the world had no certified products that could really eliminate viruses,” she said.

The result was NBelyax, a microscopic molecule that León created by manipulating an existing chemical compound. Measuring two nanometers, or two millionths of a millimeter, it infiltrates larger microorganisms, like viruses and bacteria, and attacks their genetic material, deactivating them.

León’s company, Gresmex, which she started with her brother Sergio León in 1999, uses NBelyax as the active ingredient in Éviter, a line of disinfectant and personal hygiene products. NBelyax, named for a Mayan goddess of healing, is biodegradable, noncorrosive and doesn’t create resistance in the pathogens it attacks. These characteristics make Éviter suitable for fighting infections in hospitals, offices and schools.

León’s invention has had an international impact. In 2014, she partnered with FedEx to donate over two tons of Éviter products to Liberia to combat the spread of Ebola — a contribution León hopes to scale.

 “If we can help during an epidemic like Ebola, how might we be able to fight infections in hospitals around the world?”

While NBelyax has patents in 19 countries and patents pending in 85 others, the process has been “chaotic,” León said, taking three and four years in Mexico and the U.S., respectively. Further complicating matters, securing a patent on the intellectual property of the molecule is separate from regulatory approval of Gresmex’s product. Requirements that the same tests be conducted in each country, for example, can be a burden.

 “This duplicates information, but sets us back in marketing our products,” León said, noting that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still pending.

Despite the regulatory drag, León and her partners have big plans, including Éviter’s expansion into the European market.

“We’re going to go global,” she said.

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O’Boyle is a senior editor at AQ. Follow him on Twitter @BrenOBoyle

 

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.



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