Kentucky Is Lab Partner for Bioscience Enterprises

Booming bioscience sector gets a booster shot from state initiatives.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 08:50

A growing core of innovative companies, coupled with internationally known universities and health-care providers, is helping scientists and engineers in Kentucky produce many life science and biotechnology breakthroughs.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s Department of Commercialization and Innovation (DCI) is facilitating the process, working with start-up companies and business incubators, as well as large-scale R&D firms, universities and companies across a spectrum of bio-related fields, from drug-discovery research to crop science and cancer treatment.

And those in the lab say DCI’s support, plus the sheer volume of technical expertise found in the Bluegrass State, is a winning combination.
“In 2009, we created three new companies to increase our portfolio to 16,” says Steve Gailar, president and CEO of MetaCyte Business Lab, a high-tech business accelerator that is a for-profit subsidiary of the University of Louisville Foundation. Two companies located at the lab recently completed closings on financing for more than $2 million, and one company received $270,000 in state matching funds for a $1 million National Institutes of Health award.

State Programs Assist Growth, Research

Since 2002, MetaCyte has secured more than $20 million in funding for its portfolio companies and has created more than 40 high-paying jobs. State assistance has smoothed the path for much of that expansion, Gailar says.

At ApoImmune, the focus is on developing immunotherapies, treatments that regulate the patient’s immune system to fight disease. ApoImmune, one
of MetaCyte’s portfolio companies, has two platform technologies: ProtEx, which is designed to aid in transplant therapies, and ApoVax, which will be applied to cancer and infectious-disease vaccines.

The company has been aided by state programs, including a forgivable loan tied to hiring goals and investments from Commonwealth Seed Capital and the Kentucky Enterprise Fund. All together, the company has received around $1.3 million in funding to help it grow.

“Support from various economic development programs from Kentucky has been instrumental in our growth and development and enabled us to increase our staffing from two employees to 15 employees over the last three years,” said Steven Downey, president and chief executive officer at ApoImmune.

BioLOGIC Corp., in Northern Kentucky, has opened a high-tech business accelerator in Covington that will serve as its U.S. headquarters. The new facility has already drawn several biotech firms to Kentucky, including PHD Diagnostics, which has developed a simple genetic test that can tell smokers
and ex-smokers their likelihood of developing lung cancer. The test is used as part of a smoking cessation program.

Other client companies in the facility are developing anti-cancer drugs, researching drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, developing technology that can help provide affordable clean water for households in developing countries and over-the-counter natural health products.

Naprogenix in Lexington conducts research into the chemical diversity of plants and discovers novel active compounds that are useful in creating pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals.

The combination of financing and strong support at the state and regional level has proved beneficial to Laboratory and BioDiagnostics LLC, or LabDx, said Rob Mudd, president of the 31-employee Lexington company that develops technology for the electronic delivery of results from medical diagnostic instruments.

A $250,000 forgivable loan from the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership helped the company get off the ground and stay local, he adds. The partnership is an economic development collaborative of Commerce Lexington, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government and the University of Kentucky’s Office of Commercialization and Economic Development.

“We wanted to be in Kentucky, and the assistance we received through [Commerce Lexington], our local banks and the state economic development people all made that happen,” Mudd says. “A lot of people got involved, and they were able to guide us, to get the right doors opened and help us establish strategic objectives and find beneficial relationships.”