ABEC to build $11 million plant in North Carolina

ABEC, the Bethlehem-based biotech equipment manufacturing company, announced Wednesday that it’s investing $11 million to build a new plant in Wilson County, North Carolina.

The 50,000-square-foot facility on 13 acres will expand ABEC’s single-use disposable container manufacturing capacity for its custom single run biomanufacturing solutions.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a release that the project will bring 251 jobs to Wilson County.

Founded in 1974, ABEC serves customers representing the majority of the world’s pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The release noted that many leading therapies are manufactured by processes and equipment engineered, manufactured, installed and serviced by ABEC.

The North Carolina plant will feature an ISO-7 cleanroom and state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. It will be ABEC’s third global disposable container manufacturing site and is expected to be fully operational early in the second quarter of next year.

ABEC currently supplies disposable containers globally from ISO-7 cleanrooms in Fermoy, Ireland, and its headquarters in Bethlehem. The addition of the Wilson County facility “will ensure ABEC continues to offer the shortest (disposable container) lead times in the industry,” a release from the company said.

The jobs created will be highly skilled, from engineers to manufacturing personnel, with the average salary being $52,613.

“We are pleased that the industry is recognizing the value of our (custom single run) products and we are excited about our investment in Wilson,” ABEC’s CEO and Chairman Scott Pickering said. “We look forward to building new long-term partnerships in the area and supporting our customers globally from this new site.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Doylestown biotech center receives COVID-19 funding

The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County will receive $803,306 in grant funding from the state Department of Community and Economic Development Office of Technology and Innovation.

The grant, which comes through the COVID-19 Vaccines, Treatments and Therapies program, will help the Doylestown center advance the COVID-19 related work being conducted there.

The Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, which manages the center, was awarded $165,406 to continue work on a new compound that binds to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and prevents viral entry, and promote it to human clinical trials. This could be the first small molecule drug for treatment of COVID-19.

The Blumberg Institute was also awarded $207,900 to conduct a study to determine if a small molecule, iminosugar, alone or in combination with Remdesivir or Favipiravir, is useful against SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19.

“The PA Biotech Center is an important part of our region’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, ushering in some of the first diagnostic tests in Bucks County through on-site companies, as well as hosting a number of other entrepreneurs who are developing new drugs to manage this disease,” said state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D- Bucks. “This investment not only spurs economic growth to the area’s biotech sector, but will likely help save lives here and across the world.”

PA Biotech was also awarded $430,000 to convert warehouse space in its complex to research and training space that will accelerate the pace of development of projects dealing with COVID-19 and related work. The 6,000-square-foot space will be used by several biotechnology companies, research projects, and trainees who will work on new therapeutics and diagnostics.

Hatch Biofund seeks sponsors for ground-floor of innovation

Sponsors are being sought for startup biotech clients at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, which is located in Doylestown. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Hatch Biofund Management LLC is seeking sponsors that will service the early stage biotech companies at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Doylestown.

Vlad Walko, CEO, said the aim of the new sponsorship program is to provide its clients with easy access to the services they need, while giving biotech service providers exclusive access to these burgeoning ventures.

“The real intent of having the sponsor program is to provide as many of the support services as possible,” Walko said

Those services could be in areas ranging from legal services to lab testing and pharmaceutical packaging.

Those companies, or individuals, who become sponsors – at a cost of $50,000 per sponsorship – will be given space in the center’s King of Prussia facility as well as regular access to programing at the Doylestown facility.

While startup clients won’t be required to use the sponsors’ services, they will be the preferred providers recommended by Hatch and will be better situated to build relationships with the startups.

He said other biotech incubators have sponsorship programs, but this is the first one he is aware of to provide exclusivity to sponsors.

“What is the benefit of being one of five? This adds value to the sponsorship,” he said.

Besides access, there will also be educational and networking programing offered to sponsors, that will help them find ways to work together and with clients and PABC stakeholders to bolster their relationships and their clients’ innovations.

“It’s kind of an experiment that hasn’t been done before,” Walko said. “The onus is on us to make it an attractive deal to the sponsors.”

The development of the sponsorship program has already begun.

“We already have our first group of sponsors signed up, including companies such as Citibank, West Pharmaceutical Services, Wilson Sonsini, Alcami, Zero to Five and others. We expect our village to be full later this year, given the significant value a sponsor can get out of the program,” said Hatch COO Lou Kassa.

Walko said many companies are interested in the Hatch sponsorship program because it gives them an introduction into the region’s growing biopharma industry.

Wilson Sonsini, for example, is a prominent West Coast life science law firm.

“This is a huge West Coast law firm that will now have a presence in this area,” he said.

Graham Reynolds, West Pharma Services vice president is one of the early sponsors in the program.

“West is pleased to be a sponsor of this exciting venture; we see it as an opportunity to expand our contacts to early-stage Biotech companies, help them on their journey, and provide integrated solutions for drug containment and delivery,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to learn how to serve these breakthrough technologies, and to be part of improving the lives of patients.”

There are also between 12 and 15 companies in talks with Hatch to become sponsors.

Walko said much of the interest comes from companies interested in getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing in biotech.

“They’re going to be witnessing the birth of new industries,” he said.

OraSure sells cryosurgical business for $12M

(Photo submitted) –

OraSure Technologies Inc. of Bethlehem has sold its cryosurgical systems business to another Bethlehem biotechnology firm, CryoConcepts LP, for $12 million.

The sale includes OraSure’s professional Histofreezer product line and several private label cryosurgical products sold in the consumer market, along with related patents and trademarks, customer contracts and goodwill associated with the business.

Sam Niedbala, CEO of CryoConcepts, said the two companies have a history together and that two of CryoConcepts’ three principals came from OraSure.

Niedbala said that he was among the original developers of the Histofreezer product when he was with OraSure’s predecessor, STC Technologies.

He said Histofreeze is now a product more in line with his CryoConcepts’ offerings than OraSure, which is best known for its rapid tests for the detection of antibodies to HIV and Hepatitis.

“Our business is in cryosurgery so this is a perfect fit for us and is an avenue for us to grow,” Niedbala said.

Stephen Tang, president and CEO of OraSure said the sale will allow his company to concentrate on its core business.

Tang noted that of the $185 million in revenue OraSure had in 2018, its cryosurgical systems business made up only $10.7 million of that and that was down from $12.2 million the year prior.

Tang said the company has a goal for double digit revenue growth for its business segments and cryosurgical wasn’t providing that.

“It wasn’t part of our core innovation and growth strategy,” he said. “The sale will allow us to focus on the businesses that are part of our core…the Molecular Solutions and Infectious Disease businesses.”

Tang said part of that core growth strategy is expected to be through strategic acquisition and the $12 million it received from the sale will help OraSure with that strategy.

“There are many things in the works. The pipeline for acquisition has never been more robust,” he said.

He also noted that he was happy to see the business segment go to another Lehigh Valley company and that he had confidence that the management of CryoConcepts had the expertise and strategy to grow the business.

Niedbala further commented on his plans for Histofreezer.

“Our plan is to leverage the Histofreezer brand to accelerate our introduction of a new generation of cryosurgical products to the professional and consumer markets on a global basis,” he said.

The Histofreezer line is manufactured in New York, but Niedbala said it is taking on sales people from OraSure and expects to add new positions in quality and regulatory control. He also noted that CryoConcepts does have manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley that could expand as part of this acquisition.


Ripples seen from $500M Philly-area biotech project

A rendering of the Discovery Labs at King of Prussia project in Upper Merion Township, which officials expect will have an impact on the Lehigh Valley. – Submitted –

A platform company based in Radnor is redeveloping the home of a pharmaceutical giant into a massive co-working center for life sciences companies in the Philadelphia market.

The $500 million project could prompt opportunities for Lehigh Valley companies.

The Discovery Labs, a company formed by MLP Ventures, announced the project last week at BIO 2019, a biotechnology conference in Philadelphia. The company envisions creating others like it around the world.

While the campus is open for business and Discovery Labs is signing leases, renovation work is still in progress on some buildings.
Once completed, it will offer than 1 million square feet of co-working space near the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Montgomery County.

The developers are branding the entire project The Discovery Labs at King of Prussia.

Some see benefits to the Lehigh Valley market.

The relatively low-risk, low-cost model of co-working could allow Lehigh Valley biotech firms to participate in a neighboring life sciences ecosystem without surrendering the quality of life they currently enjoy in the valley, said Matthew Tuerk, vice president of economic development and marketing for Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

“And if Discovery Labs ends up churning out lots of startups, Lehigh Valley is well-positioned to offer them a home as they grow and seek some of the amazing benefits of locating here, such as great infrastructure, central location and skilled workforce,” Tuerk said. “We are part of a larger ecosystem around the biotech industry in general.”

The Lehigh Valley has numerous resources for entrepreneurs, including schools such as Lehigh University and Lafayette College, which churning out creative innovators and research, Tuerk said.

Furthermore, organizations such as Ben Franklin TechVentures, the Pi Center in South Bethlehem and Allentown Economic Development Corp.’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, offer services and homes to startups, Tuerk added.

In addition, Lehigh Valley companies that provide services to the life sciences cluster may benefit from additional investment in surrounding communities, he said. Companies like Fisher Clinical Services, Sharp and AmeriSourceBergen already employ hundreds of people in the Lehigh Valley, Tuerk said.

“I think Lehigh Valley companies can certainly benefit from some of the startups likely to be housed in the Discovery Labs building,” said Christopher Molineaux, president and CEO of Life Sciences Pennsylvania, a trade association based in Wayne. “We have so many small companies across the state of Pennsylvania; 52 percent of them are companies with 10 employees or fewer.”

He cited a 2017 study commissioned by Life Sciences PA that found there are about 2,800 life sciences companies across the state, encompassing those in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnology and diagnostics.

Discovery Labs also could be a site for the investment companies attracted to startups, Molineaux added.

“To be able to put a lot of those companies together in one site allows for a lot of information exchange,” Molineaux said.

The ingredients

The Discovery Labs project essentially combines two office campuses, one for GlaxoSmithKline, a large pharmaceutical company, and an adjacent one called The Innovation at Renaissance Campus.

Existing tenants include GlaxoSmithKline, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson University, Tosoh Bioscience, Crown Castle and MedRisk.

New features at Discovery Labs will include IQ Connect, an incubator that will operate through a partnership with The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, which is based in Buckingham Township.

The 100,000-square-foot incubator is under construction and will open within a few months. It will bring together researchers and entrepreneurs, along with experts in human resources, venture capital, investment banking and other business services to pursue discovery and development of scientific, life sciences, tech-enabled industrial, and venture and consumer products.

Audrey Greenberg, CFO of Discovery Labs, said the timing is good for a project like Discovery Labs.

Big pharmaceutical companies are getting out of research and development and unloading their physical sites, she said. They are focusing more on marketing and sales while reducing their need for R&D space.

Research and development, meanwhile, is shifting to smaller startups, which are using technology to speed up innovation in such areas as gene therapies and new health care products, Greenberg said.

“That’s attracting venture capital,” she said.

Since 2013, total U.S. research funding for the life sciences industry from venture capital sources and the National Institutes of Health increased 44 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to statistics from The Discovery Labs.