As Adarza scales up, St. Louis hopes for an important win
Friday, February 3, 2017
Source: St. Louis Dispatch
Some companies bloom wherever they happen to be planted; others need to be transplanted to somewhere with the right nutrients.
Adarza BioSystems, now based in O’Fallon, Mo., is among the latter. Founded in upstate New York based on research at the University of Rochester, the diagnostic technology firm came to St. Louis in 2013 in search of funding, facilities and expertise.
Four years later, Adarza employs 20 people here and is gearing up to hire a half-dozen more. It has raised $31 million, much of it from local investors. It even found a clean room — a pollutant-free facility suitable for electronics manufacturing — to lease on the O’Fallon, Mo., campus of SunEdison Semiconductor, which makes silicon wafers.
“St. Louis gives us the opportunity to pull from a very rich pool of resources and get the right people in the right place at the right time,” says Bryan Witherbee, Adarza’s president.
Witherbee, a former Monsanto and Pfizer scientist who joined the company last month, is one of those timely hires. As chief scientific officer at GenCell Biosystems, an Irish company that had a small office in St. Louis, he scaled up manufacturing of a product designed for medical researchers.
That happens to be the stage where Adarza finds itself. The company has developed a technology that deposits up to 400 antibody droplets on a silicon chip less than a quarter-inch square. When a blood sample or other fluid is placed on the chip, the droplets detect proteins that are indicators of, for example, insulin levels, cancer or inflammation.
If it hits that target, Adarza will be one of the fastest St. Louis medical-technology startups to commercialize a product. Most drug and device firms here are at earlier stages, doing research or testing.
St. Louis investors have helped propel the company forward. Adarza came here in 2013 after a small investment by BioGenerator and David Smoller, a former Sigma-Aldrich executive. It also has raised money from St. Louis Arch Angels, Arch Grants, Cultivation Capital, Lewis & Clark Ventures, the Helix Fund and Missouri Technology Corp. A recent $17 million round, enough to allow Adarza to scale up production, was led by RiverVest Venture Partners of Clayton.
“What made it very attractive to us was when they demonstrated that not only was the technology feasible, it was also scalable,” says Jay Schmelter, a RiverVest managing director.
Adarza has proven that its technology works, and has talked to enough researchers to know there’s a market. Witherbee said the company hopes to be mass-producing the arrays in 15 to 18 months.