UB Partnerships Allow Empire Genomics to Flourish2012-10-08 18:41:32
At a time when state and local officials are hoping to lure new companies to the Buffalo Niagara region, stories like Empire Genomics' are key to understanding the value of collaborations between industry and academia. University entities such as UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT) help to facilitate these connections in the life sciences.
Formed in 2006, Empire Genomics provides businesses from around the world with products and services that detect genetic aberrations, including those correlated with diseases such as cancer. A major goal of the company is to develop and market new diagnostic tools including microarray services, bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) clones and fluorescent in-situ hybridization (FISH) probes. The company also performs genomic diagnostic testing services for clients.
The company's founder and chief science officer, Norma Nowak, is a professor at UB and the director of science and technology at UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.
Until 2011, Empire Genomics was headquartered in the UB Center of Excellence, where the firm had access to specialized equipment in UB labs including microscopes and DNA sequencers. This year, the company was one of more than two dozen to win funding from the UB CAT to partner with a UB scientist on a research and development project.
The UB CAT, funded by Empire State Development's Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR), has supported Empire Genomics every year, providing the company with a total of approximately $150,000 for research partnerships with UB professors.
Principal investigators on the UB CAT-funded research have included Nowak and Steven Gill, adjunct associate professor of microbiology and immunology at UB and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester. These collaborations have enabled the company to further develop tools such as a test for diagnosis of various cancers and FISH probes that are used to map genetic mutations.
Empire Genomics' CEO, Anthony Johnson, said, "Our relationship with UB has been of mutual benefit. The partnership has accelerated our technological and corporate growth and we have contributed to the hiring and training of UB students interested in the biotech field as well as supporting UB researchers through our genomic services."
With Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledging to support economic development in Western New York with $1 billion in state funding and incentives, UB's work with Empire Genomics demonstrates how the university can help spur innovation.
"We nurture Western New York's high-tech entrepreneurs because we want them to be successful and to be the foundation of a robust regional economy," said Marnie LaVigne, UB associate vice president for economic development.
Today Empire Genomics has about 10 employees and has outgrown its offices at the Center of Excellence. The company has moved into a new 6,800-square-foot facility located at 700 Michigan Ave. in Buffalo.
The company has a growing base of more than 1,000 customers, including pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca and research institutions such as Stanford University, Columbia University and Oregon Health and Science University, to name a few. Clients include laboratories from over 34 countries, and the company's most recent global developments include signing a distribution deal in Japan.
Empire Genomics' success exemplifies how corporate and academic institutions are working together to promote Western New York's economic growth.
The company's original technology was developed based on fundamental research that Nowak conducted at Roswell Park Cancer Institute as part of the U.S. Human Genome Project. When Nowak expressed interest in translating her research into real-world products and services, LaVigne -- then director of business development at the UB Center of Excellence and UB CAT -- helped facilitate a meeting with Johnson, who had a strong business background in the life sciences.