By: Maureen Newman, UVC Biomedical Engineering Community Connector
Randolph Henke, PhD, had a strong track record of success in technology development and consulting the day he learned about the concept of Arrayed Imaging Reflectometry (AIR). As an Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) at High Tech Rochester (HTR), Henke was introduced to the technology developed in the laboratory of Benjamin Miller, PhD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, so that he could conduct a business opportunity assessment and investigate the strength of the technology. As evidenced by the recent Series-A financing secured by the company that stemmed from the technology (Adarza Biosystems, Inc.), Henke saw great potential in AIR. Recently, Henke shared his experiences concerning the journey from pitch to the edge of production.
Early in Henke’s EIR position at HTR, he was in charge of several tasks ranging from speaking with entrepreneurs to working with fellow EIRs. Adarza was one of two companies Henke was involved with, but there was something unique about AIR. “It was a brand new technology, deliberately designed to meet unmet needs, and we felt it was worth pursuing,” recalled Henke.
The inventors were seeking help from HTR and Excell Partners in order to commercialize the technology. To receive any funding from Excell for a prototype, a market opportunity assessment was required, and Henke was the lead on this. He identified the strengths of the technology and its intellectual property, meeting with analysts and patent attorneys.
Henke called the technology exciting and breakthrough: the intellectual property space was uncluttered, with no other patents issued. From the level of commitment of the inventors, Henke felt comfortable they would pursue a patent. What’s more, Henke identified a large market opportunity, a feature vital to any start-up technology.
“It was a brand new technology, designed to meet unmet needs.”
Soon, a company was needed to buy the license from the University of Rochester to move the technology further. In 2008, Henke, Dr. Miller, Terry Gronwall, and Christopher Striemer, PhD, formed the management team of Adarza Corporation. Adarza inherited the license from the University of Rochester and continued to work with the university, HTR, and Excell Partners.
Funding applications were also vital to moving the technology forward. In the early stages, Adarza acquired approximately $3 million in funds, and the university acquired another $2 million. As Adarza gained more funding and reached out to industry, it became apparent the technology could bring prosperity to the company. Patents were issued, papers and presentations were made, funding and revenue from industry were realized, and pilot projects with industry were initiated. It was time for Adarza to graduate from HTR and begin looking for a location to manufacture and commercialize.
With Dr. Miller conducting research at the university and optics rooted at Electric Precision Optics, the team needed a plant to manufacture the consumable. “We wanted a location that would most likely advance the progress we were making and contribute to success,” said Henke. “That turned out to be St. Louis for a lot of reasons. We began to hire a team that is five people now and will be moving into facilities that will be ready for us in January.”
When asked what the most vital part of the process was to bring Adarza where it is today, without hesitation, Henke replied, “A very important part of the development of Adarza was reaching out to Key Opinion Leaders and to talent that was not inside [Adarza].” He noted that the team always reached outside of the company, whether it was for talent in the semiconductor industry or in the chemistry and antibody industries. “We really reached out to this talent and still do.”
Henke also sees reaching out as another way of validating Adarza’s technology. Even with the breadth of value inherent to medical devices, drugs, and biotechnology, the team always looks for the next piece of validation. With the technology performing as expected, using industry-produced materials under industry expectations at multiple locations, Henke received validation that his early recognition of the technology was more than valid.
Although the early days of waking up in the middle of the night worrying about everything that needs to be done for investors have been quieted by funding, there are always tasks to be accomplished. “It’s being able to multitask, work with groups from coast to coast, continent to continent, seven days a week,” described Henke. “You have a day where you are continuously reading emails, on conference calls, meeting with the team, on airplanes… the list goes on.”
Yet at the end of the day, Henke, Dr. Miller, Gronwall, and Dr. Striemer can rest assured that Adarza has momentum to continue forward thanks to their well-earned Series-A financing. Once the plant in St. Louis is generating consumables that make it to market, the idea started by an inventor in the laboratory will become a realized innovation helping make point-of-care clinical testing possible.