Newcomer is adept at drug development

Newcomer is adept at drug development
May 8, 2007
By Benjamin Weller
Star correspondent
The path to successful drug development is fraught with hurdles.
Between the discovery of a new drug, phased clinical trials, federal approval and its appearance on the market, a decade can easily pass.
BioConvergence, a contract- services company in Bloomington, helps pharmaceutical companies jump some of those hurdles and move products to market more quickly and efficiently.
Offering drug development, material management and consulting services, BioConvergence has found a profitable niche.
The young company has announced a multimillion-dollar expansion that will add 20,000 square feet to its current 50,000-square-foot headquarters and an additional 15 employees to the 21 who already work there. Construction will begin in a couple weeks and is scheduled for completion before year's end.
Chief Scientific Officer Jeff Schwegman co-founded the company in 2004, along with Alisa Wright, Lance Wright and John Brooks. The four had been working at Baxter Pharmaceutical Solutions next door to where BioConvergence now stands, and each contributed skills developed in the pharmaceutical and biomedical engineering industries. They knew what drug makers needed, which demands weren't being met, and how to meet them.
"I thought this would be a good opportunity for a new company," Schwegman said.
"Companies want to move quickly because they only have 17 years on a patent once they file it, and that clock is ticking all the way back at the very beginning when they discover that molecule. . . . So they want to move as fast as they can. They want to make sure they're doing it the most efficiently, too, cost-wise."
On the product development side, BioConvergence does analysis and formulation on drug molecules, getting them into the optimal state for patient delivery. The company has invested heavily in its laboratory equipment, Schwegman said, enabling him and his team of scientists to do work that their clients can't.
BioConvergence's materials management services include the climate-controlled storage, packaging and labeling of drugs for clinical trials, and their distribution to testing facilities worldwide. Its expansion is meant primarily to increase storage capacity and to add versatility to the types of storage BioConvergence can provide.
The third service area, consulting, was an afterthought, Schwegman said. People started calling after finding BioConvergence through a Web search, or after hearing Schwegman or one of his colleagues speak at industry conferences.
Now the company gets requests for advice on everything from installing and validating certain types of equipment to freeze-drying drugs and helping clients meet Food and Drug Administration requirements.
"There are a lot of companies out there that are looking for little niches of expertise that we have, and they're more than willing to pay some consulting fees to have us point them in the right direction," Schwegman said.
"It just helps them get down the path a little faster without bumping into too many walls."
Located next door to Baxter and Cook Group on the west side of Bloomington near the Ivy Tech Community College campus, BioConvergence is just one of a host of biomedical and pharmaceutical- related companies in the area.
George Telthorst, director of the Bloomington Life Sciences Partnership, said the expansion of BioConvergence represents an "endorsement" of the company's strategy and a sign of the growth of a strong life-sciences "cluster."
"BioConvergence is an interesting new development because they are a contract supplier to some of the larger firms," Telthorst said. "When you have a healthy cluster, you'd like to see secondary and tertiary suppliers to the big guys."
BioConvergence does serve the "big guys," but not to the exclusion of startups.
"More and more, these little biotechs are just five scientists and a venture capitalist," said Steve Bryant, manager of business development and marketing at BioConvergence. "The venture capitalists are the ones saying, 'We don't want to invest in manufacturing capacity. We can't be competitive, and we don't know how to do it. Let's find somebody who can do it.' "
For small companies, BioConvergence offers capacity, infrastructure and knowledge of the production chain. For larger clients, it provides a lower-cost alternative to doing everything in-house.
"Now we've got all the people in place to do it and all the tools in place to do it," Schwegman said. "It's pretty much one-stop shopping here."
Copyright 2007 All rights reserved
Comments: 0