Covering nearly three quarters of Earth’s surface, the ocean is one of the planet’s most valuable natural resources. Although it’s already the primary food source for 3.5 billion people, scientists believe the ocean could supply six times more food than it does today. And that bounty goes beyond food. Pharmaceutical companies increasingly are looking to the oceans for the development of new drugs.
Whether as a vital source of food or a new, life-saving drug, the ocean has the potential to “improve global health and well-being,” a goal that drives Wilmington’s SeaTox Research Inc.
, a small company with an ocean-size vision.
Based at UNCW’s CREST Research Park, in Myrtle Grove along the Intracoastal Waterway, SeaTox focuses on two main areas – drug discovery and development of natural products into new bio-actives, and developing faster, easier-to-use testing for toxins that can contaminate commercial seafood.
The firm, founded in 2013 by wife-and-husband biologists Jennifer and Sam McCall, also provides contract research services.
“We really want to take technologies and take them to where they can be of benefit to mankind,” Sam McCall said recently.
As part of its consulting work, SeaTox also helps other researchers who want to turn a discovery or idea into a usable product or service. That includes practical issues such as grant writing, finding investors and navigating the complex world of regulation and intellectual property protection.
It’s an important and familiar service in Wilmington’s entrepreneur world but, in this case, it’s catered specifically to marine-science products and services.
“There are a lot of really, really bright people that have amazing ideas, particularly here in Wilmington,” Sam McCall said. “Scientists are amazing experts on their technology. They know everything about it. They’ve spent years developing it. They’ve spent years studying everything surrounding it, but they may not necessarily know how to commercialize it.
“We partner with people and we look at these ideas and say, all right, if we can drive this small amount of data that will make this idea more attractive, because then maybe you can get a grant, and if we take this grant and build up a larger portfolio of data, then maybe you can get an investor. And once you’ve gotten that investor, maybe you can build out the portfolio.”
Like most entrepreneurs, the Mc- Calls are developing products and services that fill needs in the marketplace.
SeaTox’s research so far has resulted in three commercial – albeit highly specialized – products: three types of test kits that can easily and quickly identify toxins in certain marine life. The primary customers are agencies that manage marine fisheries.
“There are lots of off-ramps and on-ramps along the way to true commercialization,” Sam McCall said. “And to have that vision, in addition to having the scientific vision, it really helps to put those two pieces together to be successful.”
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