Rapidly growing high-tech businesses often need to make major capital investments in research and development facilities, investments that may exceed a young company’s short-term revenue. Collaboration with an existing academic laboratory, like UNCW’s CREST Research Park, has allowed such businesses to focus more on their work, and less on raising money.
A number of research-oriented companies are co-locating in our laboratories, housed in the MARBIONC building at CREST Research Park off Masonboro Loop Road. An important benefit for both sides is that commercial and university researchers working in close proximity are able to collaborate in mutually beneficial ways.
One example of this is A1 Biochem Labs, a contract research organization (CRO) that moved its U.S. operations to our facility this year. CROs are companies that provide specialized chemistry work, biological testing and even clinical trials for large pharmaceutical corporations. Wilmington is home to a number of CROs of various sizes, which often operate on a global scale.
A1 Biochem Labs is focused on chemistry. The company’s president, Raj Gadikota, explained that it specializes in analyzing the properties and molecular structure of compounds that may have value as medicines. In A1’s case, he said, his clients are responsible for the final-stage research that determines how these chemicals work biologically, interacting with living organisms. That leaves his company to focus on both identifying the actual compounds, and perfecting processes for manufacturing them in quantity.
When the pharma companies go through the clinical phases of their research and need ever-increasing quantities of certain compounds, A1 Biochem works with manufacturing partners in India that can handle the “scale-up work” of production.
“We actually come up with new chemicals,” Gadikota said, and A1 has more than 1,000 different compounds in its advertised catalogue. His company is working with 20 different clients right now. Some of his inventory of compounds is end products. Other items are intermediate chemicals, “scaffolds” and “building blocks,” the molecules that serve as starting points for creating more complex substances.
A1 describes itself as “specialists in sourcing of hard to find chemicals,” typically those that are useful to drug discovery and development efforts.
So why is this global enterprise based in Wilmington? Gadikota started his company in 2013 in upstate New York, but quickly started looking for a new location. After investigating possibilities including the Research Triangle Park, he discovered that UNCW’s marine science laboratories and our staff’s capabilities “perfectly fits what we need.” One important aspect of CREST Research Park’s state-of-the-art facilities is Nuclear Magnetic Resonance equipment.
This NMR is a science-lab cousin of the MRI scanners used in medical diagnostics, but used to understand the structure of a molecule instead of the inside of a patient’s body. A1 needs to do NMR work on a daily basis. In his previous location, Gadikota said, a researcher would have to drive to an off-site lab. Here, everything his company needs is under one roof.
Of course, as with so many other relocations to Wilmington, Gadikota did mention that he was attracted by the warmer weather and lifestyle benefits compared to the chilly North.
Since getting established, A1 has also been working with our faculty scientists to find useful scientific collaborations. Our research emphasizes identifying natural substances produced by marine organisms. Often we find these compounds in very tiny amounts. Gadikota’s company specializes in figuring out ways to produce complex chemicals in larger amounts, needed both for clinical research and eventually for manufacturing.
A partnership like this is a good example of how local work and pure research can have an immediate global impact and contribute directly to advances in medical care.
UNCW CREST Research Park is a frontrunner in marine biotech research and development. Researchers are exploring the potential of natural products derived from the sea to treat or cure human diseases, and meet other needs of marine biotechnological importance.
Discover why rising biotechnology and life sciences groups from all over the country are moving to UNCW CREST Research Park. UNCW CREST Research Park offers top-notch commercial laboratories available for lease at affordable rates, flexible terms, and innovative product development opportunities that are unmatched by any other park. Connect with CREST at [email protected] today.
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