Local biotech firm leaders see personalized medicine as growth engine
Feb 22, 2013 (Richmond Times-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Leaders of several Richmond-area biotechnology-related companies said Thursday that they foresee personalized medicine as a major force driving the industry's growth, but access to capital for small firms with good ideas remains a challenge.
"Life sciences is really the big, huge growth industry," said Mike Grisham, the chief executive officer of GPB Scientific, a Richmond-based company focused on using microchip technology in health and life-science research.
"It really is the place that the U.S. competes against the rest of the world like no other," Grisham said at a meeting of the Richmond Venture Forum. Also on the panel were executives of three other local biotech firms: Intelliject; Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. and Venebio.
Personalized medicine can have many definitions, the panelists said.
Edward Lenn Murrelle, principal founder of Venebio, a company that provides custom research solutions, described it as, "trying to get the right treatment to the right patients."
Research has traditionally focused on large, epidemiological studies, said Joe McConnell, chief laboratory officer and co-founder of Health Diagnostic Laboratory, a rapidly growing company that provides diagnostic testing to detect early risk factors for such conditions as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
However, individuals can respond to treatments in different ways.
"The problem we have is, how does medicine determine what is the right therapy for any given individual " he asked.
"What we are trying to do at Intelliject is put the patient in front, because the patient is becoming more and more in front" in health care, said Kris Ford, vice president of business development at Intelliject.
He said it is "tough" to raise money in the current economic environment and tough to get FDA approval for new products.
"So we have really tried to consciously build a company and a model that navigates through all that, to come up with a product that is innovative, that is price conscious, and that goes through multiple iterations of patient testing."
The company was founded by two Richmond-area brothers, and it recently brought to market its first product, a hand-held injection device that provides allergy sufferers with step-by-step instructions to inject themselves with medicine to prevent severe allergic reactions. Health Diagnostic Laboratory, created in 2009, has grown to more than 600 employees in offices at the Virginia BioTechnology Park in downtown Richmond.
McConnell said the company's mission is to "beat the No. 1 killer of Americans" -- cardiovascular disease. Doing so will mean better identifying the causes of the disease in individual patients and finding the right prevention and therapies for individuals.
"If we can identify those individuals early, treat them individually, and get the right person to the right patient at the right time, we can beat the disease," he said.
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