For at least the next year, Enzium, a small start-up biotechnology company, will be taking residence on the third floor of University of the Sciences’ McNeil Science and Technology Center. Enzium is leasing the space for manufacturing and further development of fluorescent reagent kits for selective detection of protease enzyme activity.
USciences biology chair Dr. Peter B. Berget, a cofounder of the company when he was at Carnegie Mellon University, was instrumental in establishing its presence at USciences. Together with cofounder and CEO Crystal Falco, Enzium offers a handful of off-the-shelf fluorescence-based detection kits and is finishing development of a custom reagent service based on its proprietary technology.
The establishment of a start-up company at USciences is a first for the University. In addition to adding a new dimension to the campus from a research and entrepreneurial aspect, the company will provide exposure to students interested in gaining behind-the-scenes insight into the business world.
“Students have a lot of natural curiosity and interest in entrepreneurism in biotechnology. I think this provides them with some access to get answers to their questions,” Dr. Berget said.
Currently, Enzium is packaging protease detection kits for research and development applications in academic labs, government labs, and commercial labs. Enzium reagents are unique compared to competitors’ because they are based on an engineered protein platform and can incorporate very long protease recognition sequences. This unique platform allows Enzium to quickly build very selective reagents for difficult to detect proteases using the proteases’ natural substrates.
“We’re a little bit different,” said Falco. “We can be much more selective with the enzyme targets. Proteases look for what are called amino acid recognition sequences. Our competitors can build in very short amino acid sequences but it turns out a lot of proteases like longer sequences and that is something only we can accommodate.”
The kits retail between $650 and $750, and depending on the research application used, researchers can get anywhere from 100 to 400 samples tested with one kit.
On a parallel track, Dr. Berget’s research lab at the University is aiming to develop biosensor reagents for new proteases that can then be licensed to the company.
“Enzium hopes to have the opportunity to collaborate with academic and commercial labs, while the company looks for licensable technologies that have high commercial potential,” Falco said. “Sometimes those things [academic and commercial projects] overlap but oftentimes they don’t, but we can assume at some point we will have some converging interests.”
In just the few short weeks Falco has been at USciences, she has already informally talked to students answering questions on business models and start-up company strategies in general. She indicated that there might be student internship opportunities with Enzium as the business grows.
In addition to the research space provided by the University, Enzium is receiving backing from BioAdvance through its Greenhouse Fund. “Enzium is one of the first BioAdvance companies from outside of Philadelphia to be attracted to the area,” Falco said of the funding.
“I know USciences president Dr. Helen Giles-Gee is interested in university – corporate partnerships and this might be a sign of things to come,” Dr. Berget said. “I think it’s a win all around, and I’m glad it got started.”
When asked whether Dr. Berget’s view was correct, President Giles-Gee said, “You bet! Past history has shown that University of the Sciences has fomented innovators and start-up businesses. We want to capitalize on the core research strengths of the University in ways that generate benefits for faculty and students, incubating and developing businesses as well as the economic development of the region. I am very pleased with what Dr. Berget and associates are doing here.”