UW Professor and Former Student Receive $1 Million Grant to Start Biotechnology Business
One million dollars will go a long way to help get a Wyoming business off the ground.
University of Wyoming Department of Molecular Biology Professor Don Jarvis and former UW student Christoph Geisler received the large grant -- in partnership with a company from the University of Kentucky -- for a collaborative effort to develop new platforms for manufacturing biotechnology products.
Jarvis and Geisler began their company, GlycoBac, in summer 2011 after winning UW’s John P. Ellbogen $30k Entrepreneurship Competition. After using their $12,500 award from the competition to establish the company, Jarvis and Geisler, together with ParaTechs Corp., submitted a proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant.
GlycoBac’s goals are to find ways to produce glycoprotein drugs using insect cells. In this initial project, GlycoBac will work together with Angelika Fath-Goodin, the project’s co-principal investigator at ParaTechs in Lexington, Ky.
Started by Bruce Webb from the University of Kentucky, ParaTechs has developed technology designed to increase production levels, while GlycoBac has developed technology designed to increase product quality in insect cell-based manufacturing systems.
“We’re on parallel tracks. ParaTechs has technology that it believes can produce larger amounts of material, and we have a technology we believe can produce higher quality material,” Jarvis says. “We chose to couple our technologies in an effort to develop insect cell systems that can be used to manufacture larger amounts in addition to higher-quality biotechnological products.”
GlycoBac and ParaTechs submitted the proposal for their cooperative research in April and received a grant of more than $1 million to be used over a two-year period. Each company will receive about half of the funding to conduct its research.
“We will be working together due to our common interest in improving insect cell-based expression systems to produce recombinant proteins with biomedical applications,” Jarvis says. “Insect cells have been used as platforms to create FDA-approved drugs, and they provide a faster and safer alternative for doing so. They are not well suited for the production of glycoprotein drugs at this time.”
With the help of the grant, GlycoBac will officially begin operations as a company and will begin product development in earnest.
“Right now, the company exists on paper. But, we don’t have a lab or product yet. This grant will help us to get up and running,” Jarvis says.
As a former $30k Competition winner, GlycoBac is eligible to work in the Wyoming Technology Business Center for a year after moving out of its current facility.
As GlycoBac begins to operate as a business venture, it will hire its first employees, including a chief research scientist and technical assistant, while Jarvis will serve as a consultant.
Don Jarvis and former UW student Christoph Geisler will partner with a University of Kentucky company to develop new platforms for manufacturing biotechnology products. (UW Photo)