December 2012 Newsletter

December 2012 Newsletter

 

From the Board Chair

Thanks to everyone who made the recent Vermont Biosciences Alliance Forum a great success! I would particularly like to thank the panel speakers, the companies and organizations who set up displays, and importantly, Ms. Susan Fayette, our Administrative Director. Susan put the event together and made sure it ran smoothly. And finally, I’d like to thank all our members and other attendees who came to learn more about the future of the Vermont biosciences industry.

One of the important topics of the discussion panel was the critical role of UVM to the success of the bioscience industry. Over the years, UVM has made important strides in streamlining technology transfer. Recently, the Shumlin Administration has released a report that acknowledges the importance of the university to the economy of the State and suggests ways to strengthen the relationship between the two.

In the coming year, I hope the VBSA will discuss this report and consider its expected direct effect on the Vermont biosciences industry. As a growing industry responsible for positive economic effects in many states across the country, I do have some questions on how doubling the engineering program, but not the biological and medical sciences programs, will be a plus for Vermont bioscience companies. I’m particularly curious about how this will help our industry given the comparatively low financial contribution by the state to the university. One thing I do know is that there can be no high tech bioscience industry in a state without, not just strong, but world-class university research. I hope this becomes clearer as I learn more.

And finally, I am saddened to mention the recent passing of Mr. Tom Teel. Tom was the Research Facilities Specialist in the Pathology Department at UVM for many years. Medical science requires people along the entire spectrum – deans to lab techs – and there would be no medical science anywhere without people like Tom who spend their lives making sure our laboratories are maintained, properly equipped, and modern. Tom was a great person and incredibly helpful to me and others through the years. His contribution to the entire bioscience enterprise in Vermont often went unnoticed except for those of us who needed his knowledge and help. There is no way to replace someone like Tom. The VBSA wishes his family well.

As always: please contact me if you would like to be more involved with our organization. I wish everyone a warm and remarkable holiday season!

Bill Church, Interim Chair, VBSA Board of Directors

VBSA Forum Wrap-Up

On November 7, 2012, 55 people attended the first-ever VBSA Forum. The event started with an informal trade show featuring 12 booths representing companies and organizations from Vermont, or doing business in Vermont. A panel discussion featuring 4 leaders in the Vermont bioscience community followed. The topic was “The Future of Biosciences in Vermont”. John Evans from the University opened the discussion, followed by Briar Alpert of BioTek Instruments, Michael Stanley of Chroma Technology Corp., and Rick Jenny of Haematological Technologies. Topics covered included the efforts by UVM to support and commercialize promising scientific developments, the role of company culture in promoting commercial success, the challenges of balancing product specialization for large clients and having a diversified offering to attract new ones. There was also some discussion as panelists addressed questions from the audience. The group then adjourned to the mezzanine for snacks, drinks, and socializing. It was a fun evening, with many familiar faces, plus a few new ones.

Upcoming Bio-Beers

We have scheduled two informal networking get-togethers in the next few months. Put them on your calendars and, when the time comes, get out of the office or the lab and come have a little fun with your bioscience peers in Vermont. Hope to see you at one or both of the upcoming Bio-Beers!

Friday, January 25, 4-6 pm

Junior’s Italian Restaurant Bar – Colchester

Friday March 15, 4:30-6:30 pm

Main Street Grill (NECI), downstairs bar – Montpelier

VBSA Membership

THANK YOU to our Renewing Members

The VBSA is moving from being an entirely sponsored organization to one that includes paid memberships as well. We believe that it is the best way to insure that the VBSA represents all the bioscience constituents throughout the state.

To the businesses and organizations who have recently renewed their membership – Thank you for supporting the bioscience industry in Vermont.

Big thanks as well to our sponsoring organizations, you’ll find their logos on this newsletter.

Join Us – As an Individual or Student

If you are interested in bioscience entrepreneurship in Vermont, consider joining the Vermont Biosciences Alliance. Most of our members are companies, but we also offer membership to individuals and students.

The mission of our organization is to connect people who work in or support the biosciences industry in Vermont. We believe that our industry is an important one for Vermont, bringing high-paying jobs, advancing science and medicine, and minimally impacting the environment.

Joining the Vermont Biosciences Alliance will help you expand your professional network and keep current on news and opportunities in bioscience right here in Vermont. It also sends a message of support for Vermont bioscience companies and organizations.

  • We’ve tried to make membership for individuals affordable at $50
  • Membership is free for students of all levels and teachers at the elementary and high school level.

Check our website for more on the benefits of joining the VBSA and to sign up.

Member Spotlight

Bia Diagnostics LLC

Bia Diagnostics Logo

The perfect time to drop in at Bia Diagnostics LLC in Burlington, Vermont, is when you’re hungry. The large, open room that functions as a combination office/conference/lunch space is a veritable warehouse of snacks. And if you’re someone who has a food allergy, no worries. Since this rapidly growing company’s business revolves around food-allergen testing, you can be sure that if the pretzels, chocolates, crackers, cookies, bread, etc., are labeled gluten- (or soy-, or peanut-, etc.-) free, they truly are.

Food, neutraceutical, animal feed, and other manufacturers from all over North America and Europe – and even one recent client from South Africa – rely on Bia Diagnostics to accurately determine whether food allergens are present in their finished products, in the raw materials used, or on their production equipment. The company employs simple, proven, antibody-based immunological assays, using both polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies. They offer allergen testing, assay development, and method-validation services.

Right from the start, say the Graces, the Bia Diagnostics business model was “to provide our customers with the most reliable and highest standards in food-allergen analysis.” Given the complexity and wide variety of products to be tested, doing this is no easy feat. According to Thom, “Food samples are probably a thousand times more complicated than samples used in animal diagnostics.” Even when products contain identical ingredients, he explains, the manufacturing process often varies significantly. Processing steps, such as heating and extrusion, can denature or sequester antigens, and other components in complex mixtures, such as fats, can interfere with immunological assays.

Thom and Hannah initially planned to use commercially available ELISAs for their testing, but they found that, for many allergens, they simply did not provide accurate, reliable results from the complex, processed samples their customers needed to analyze. Antibodies directed against processed, rather than native or unprocessed, antigens are needed for these matrices. The Graces developed a very close collaboration with a laboratory in Oregon to produce antibodies to their specifications, antibodies which the Bia Diagnostics team then uses to develop ELISAs for quantitative testing at their Burlington laboratory. The antibodies are also used in lateral flow devices (LFDs)-think drugstore pregnancy test-that are developed at Bia Diagnostics and manufactured in various facilities in the US. These LFDs are designed for customers who need rapid, on-site food-allergen analysis. Companies use them to fulfill their regulated testing requirements (e.g., HACCP, GMP, AOAC, Health Canada) for label verification. LFDs offer a convenient and reliable method for checking raw materials, swabs from machinery and manufacturing lines, and finished products for food allergens.

As of last week, Bia Diagnostics cemented their relationship with their antibody producer by launching a new partnership, called Elution Technologies. This new company will market the LFD testing kits and will also make ELISA kits commercially available, and Bia Diagnostics will focus on service offerings.

Bia Diagnostics team photo

I asked the Bia Diagnostics leadership team, which now also includes Robin Grace (Thom’s wife and Hannah’s mother), to describe the pros and cons of operating a bioscience business in Vermont. They mentioned that the weather can sometimes interfere with shipments to and from their facility, and that travel often requires more than one connecting flight, but they consider these to be minor inconveniences that are easily outweighed by the many benefits of their Burlington location. Thom cites the opportunities available for trading ideas with researchers at the University of Vermont as a big plus, and he says that their geographic proximity to UVM “creates a feedback mechanism” that has been very helpful at times; Hannah values and appreciates being part of the vibrant and supportive Burlington business community; and Robin mentions the large pool of educated, creative, and social-minded applicants who have responded to employment opportunities with Bia Diagnostics. (On that note, the company looks forward to giving consideration to a fresh pool of applicants in the near future as their needs continue to grow.)

Bia Diagnostics has clearly given back to the Burlington community-donating many hours and over 20 percent of their profits to local organizations, such as Women Helping Battered Women, the 5k/10k Fairfax Egg Run, and Vermont’s Recreation Fund; and international causes such as the Celiac Sprue Foundation and Amnesty International. Social responsibility is a very important part of the company culture. It guides how Bia Diagnostics interacts with employees, customers, neighbors, and the wider community. And clearly, it’s working-in 2011 Bia Diagnostics was named the U.S. Small Business Administration Vermont Micro-Enterprise of the Year. They were chosen based on growth, rising revenues over a three-year period, and service to the community.

One last thing to know about Bia Diagnostics is the correct pronunciation of the company name: bee-uh (not by-uh) diagnostics. The name is a clever fit. First, bia is gaelic for “food” and Thom was born in Ireland. Secondly, BIA is an acronym for biospecific interaction analysis, which could be used to describe their testing methodology.

Industry News

Editorial: Energizer’s Wake-up Call

What can Vermont learn from Energizer’s decision to leave Vermont, and how can we move forward? These are questions addressed in a recently released editorial by Bruce Lisman, founder of the independent, nonpartisan public policy organization Campaign for Vermont.

“We want to have as many homegrown businesses as possible. But the reality of the global market place is that companies like Energizer, or many bioscience companies, which provide good jobs, are headquartered elsewhere,” Lisman notes.

“This is an important wake-up call and an important opportunity to strengthen the job creation, and job retention, strategy of our state,” Lisman writes. “We are not disconnected from the economy outside of Vermont and, while we continue to cultivate local business, the influence of the global economy will remain significant. Public policy here matters.”

Lisman goes on to praise what he calls an exceptional economic development network that “knows the local markets and employers.” However, as Lisman points out, there is no one who systematically calls on employers based out of state. “No one regularly visits their headquarters; no one builds relationships with key decision makers about expansion and relocation,” Lisman writes. “We should have a team of people focused on this relationship building; individuals who come to understand the company’s needs, what drives their decision making and how to help when they share their challenges. It’s too late to offer ideas—and to prevent job losses—when a company is thinking of leaving or has decided to leave.”

To read Lisman’s complete editorial and learn more about his ideas, visit www.campaignforvermont.org.

89 North Awarded 2011 Prism Award

89 North logo

Tucked away in the Chace Mill in Burlington, one small company is producing big innovation for the life science imaging community. 89 North, a subsidiary of Bellows Falls’ award-winning Chroma Technology Corp., took home a prestigious 2011 Prism Award from the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). The Prism Awards are given each year “to products that challenge conventional ideas, solve problems, and improve life through the generation and harnessing of light”.

The awards span several categories intended to isolate specific contributions in photonics across various technology areas and industry sectors. 89 North’s award, granted in the category of “Life Sciences and Biophotonics”, was presented for the Heliophor™—an innovative, high-intensity, and exceptionally stable light source system used for quantitative fluorescence imaging. According to SPIE, “The Heliophor provides a new alternative to arc lamps, metal halides, and LED light sources.”

The innovation cornerstone of the Heliophor is its pumped-phosphor architecture, which utilizes high power, solid-state light sources to generate specific emission spectra through excitation of conversion phosphors. The pumped-phosphor architecture, combined with the Heliophor’s sophisticated cooling and control designs, results in superior stability. Stability is critical for ensuring that output intensity is consistent across measurements, allowing for repeatable, truly quantitative fluorescence analysis.

Heliphor™ Image

The Heliophor offers exceptional performance for a wide variety of fluorescence techniques which focus on probing how cells operate as well as how they malfunction. Research applications include neurology and muscle physiology, disease mechanisms, and understanding universal biological pathways in model organisms such as yeast.

SPIE was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth.

Drawing upon its core competencies and penchant for innovation, 89 North is continuing its mission to become a world leader in the biophotonics industry, developing illumination systems to serve the needs and expand the capability of the life science research community. The Prism Award is one of many achievements expected from this small yet highly inventive company. “We created 89 North to encourage the kind of innovations that emerge when smart and creative people interact,” said Chroma President Paul Millman. “The Prism Award certifies the success of that interaction.”

BioTek Instruments Wins Scientists Choice Award

BioTek Instruments proudly announces receipt of the 2012 Drug Discovery Product of the Year – Scientists’ Choice Award for their Synergy™ NEO HTS Multi-Mode Microplate Reader. The award, sponsored by SelectScience, was announced September 5th at ELRIG Drug Discovery in Manchester, UK.

BioTek receives ScienceSelect Award

“This award is such a special recognition from our customers; we’re delighted to have our Synergy NEO foremost recognized among many cutting-edge drug discovery technologies,” noted Gary Barush, BioTek’s Director of Marketing & Sales. “In return, we promise to continue innovating microplate-based solutions to benefit drug discovery applications.” BioTek’s Synergy NEO was selected among seven product finalists, as nominated by SelectScience members. NEO is specifically designed for today’s streamlined screening applications and core laboratories. Patented Hybrid Technology™ combines filter- and monochromator-based optics in the compact Synergy NEO for increased flexibility, speed and performance. Full spectrum reading in both fluorescent and absorbance modes, plus multiple parallel detectors decrease measuring time, and dedicated filter-based optics are suited for live cell assays. Additionally, an optional plate stacker with a 6-second plate exchange time increases efficiency and walk-away automation. Powerful and user-friendly Gen5™ Data Analysis Software allows custom protocol creation, data processing and export flexibility.

BioTek Among 5x5x5 Growth Award Special Honorees

For the third time in five years, BioTek Instruments was recognized as a recipient of the 5x5x5 Growth Award at the 10th annual awards ceremony on Monday, September 17, 2012. This annual award is sponsored by Vermont Business Magazine and KeyBank, and is presented to Vermont companies experiencing outstanding growth in one of five business categories.

BioTek was recognized in this year’s “10×10” category, marking Vermont’s Top 10 companies in terms of sales growth over 10 years, and also honoring the award’s 10th anniversary. BioTek also received the 5x5x5 award in 2008 and 2011.

“I’m honored to receive this award on behalf of BioTek, and to celebrate our growth in the great state of Vermont,” noted Briar Alpert, BioTek’s President and CEO. “And above all else, I’m proud of the BioTekkers that work as a team every day to reach our goals, and to make BioTek one of the best companies in Vermont.”

“On the 10th anniversary of the 5x5x5 Awards we decided to honor, for the first time, the fastest growing Vermont companies over the past ten years and it was no surprise that our data pointed right to BioTek Instruments as one of these great companies”, commented John Boutin, Publisher of Vermont Business Magazine. “With their commitment to their employees, the environment and their community, it proves you can do all that and still have a very successful company right here in the state of Vermont.”