From Science Project to Commercial Success
In 2001 when University of Georgia graduate student James Atwood began working with professors Ron Orlando and Rick Tarleton on a research project, he had no inkling that just eight years later he would be the General Manager of U.S. operations for an Australian biotech company.
The project focused on unraveling the proteomics of Chagas, a tropical parasitic disease that can cause serious stomach and heart problems. “The research generated lots of data, but we didn’t know what to do with it,” said Atwood. The solution: hiring computer professional Brent Weatherly, who helped to develop software to analyze the data. This led to a publication in 2005 in Science and a starring role at the publisher’s 100th anniversary news conference.
What followed was a suggestion from the UGA technology transfer office to form a company to refine and market the software. With the agreement of Dr. Orlando and Dr. Tarleton, and the expert advice of Margaret Wagner Dahl, director of the Georgia Research Alliance VentureLab program at UGA, BioInquire was formed.
“With Phase Ia and Phase Ib VentureLab grants totaling $50,000, we were able to develop a prototype and do some market research,” said Atwood. “Phase II grants allowed us to go from prototype to marketing and selling our product, ProteoIQ software, which catalogues, analyzes and mines the products of mass spectrometric analysis”
The company’s first sale was to a researcher at the University of North Carolina, and 75% of its market remains academic researchers.
Then, in 2009, BioInquire caught the eye of NuSep, an Australian bioseparations products company. “NuSep markets the devices to separate proteins; we have the software to analyze the data,” said Atwood. In December that year, NuSep signed a letter of intent to acquire BioInquire for more than $3 million in three phases over the next 18 months. “We strongly believe that sales for the ProteomeSep MF10 [bioseparations instrument] will be boosted by providing a complete solution to our mass spectrometry customers,” said NuSep Managing Director and CEO Hari Nair.
The rest of the good news: NuSep intends to grow operations in Athens, has established its U.S. headquarters in Lawrenceville and has named Atwood its General Manager.
“The whole process has changed my life – and those of many of us involved with BioInquire. GRA VentureLab put us on the fast track. They wanted us to succeed,” Atwood said.
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