Boston Mountain Biotech Moves to Arkansas Research and Technology Park
Start-up now a Genesis technology Incubator clientThursday, August 15, 2013
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Boston Mountain Biotech LLC, a company founded by University of Arkansas graduate Ellen Brune, is now a Genesis Technology Incubator client at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park.
Earlier this month, the start-up firm moved into its new office and laboratory space at the park, which is managed by the University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation.
Brune, who earned a doctorate in chemical engineering with a focus in bioprocessing in May, started Boston Mountain Biotech after developing a patent-pending method to simplify the pharmaceutical production of proteins used in drugs that treat a variety of diseases and health conditions.
Brune was among an interdisciplinary group of researchers who filed an intellectual property disclosure form in early 2012. The University of Arkansas filed a provisional patent application and issued a license to commercialize the technology to Boston Mountain Biotech last fall.
The research group also filed for an international patent under the Patent Cooperation Treaty. After that application publishes in mid-September, the research group will be able to release some technical data. That information is currently confidential.
"We’re finishing prototype development and hopefully we can get that done quickly and start generating sales,” Brune said.
Brune conducted research at the university as a Doctoral Academy Fellow, where she created a series of custom strains of the bacteria Escherichia coli that express minimized sets of contaminants or “nuisance” proteins.
In the laboratory, Brune worked under the direction of chemical engineering professor Bob Beitle, one of several researchers who have been investigating this problem for more than a decade. Brune designed custom strains of “Lotus” E. coli. Lotus refers to a suite of cell lines optimized to work with specific separation techniques and characteristics.
She accomplished this through bio-separation and genetic manipulation, specifically by removing the sections of DNA that code for the contaminant regions. Her work simplifies the purification process on the front end of protein pharmaceutical production, so that the cell line is specifically developed for manufacturing.
In addition to receiving a total of more than $1 million in research grants through the National Science Foundation and Arkansas Biosciences Institute, Brune participated in the graduate entrepreneurship certificate program at the university and participated on a team that built a business plan around Brune’s discovery. The team won $43,350 in prize money in graduate student business plan competitions.
Boston Mountain Biotech has three employees: Brune, who serves as chief scientific officer and owner; Ricky Draehn, chief executive officer; and McKinzie Fruchtl, director of fermentation. Draehn is a licensed professional engineer with more than 30 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. Fruchtl received a doctorate in chemical engineering from the U of A in May.
Boston Mountain Biotech has submitted two grant requests totaling $1.75 million to the National Institutes of Health and, along with Beitle, to the National Science Foundation. The NIH grant is through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, which allows federal agencies to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector by strengthening small businesses that meet federal research and development needs.
Brune said she didn’t started her line of research thinking it would develop into a commercial enterprise. But after Beitle submitted a grant application to the NSF I-Corps Program in the winter of 2012, they discovered the perceived value of Brune’s invention.
“Under the grant, we had to make customer contacts to validate whether or not what we were doing made any sense, commercially,” Brune said. “Every one of the first 15 people we contacted said, ‘Can you have this to me tomorrow?’ At that point, Bob and I realized that this was a big deal; people seriously wanted this.”
Ellen Brune, chief scientific officer
Boston Mountain Biotech
Chris Branam, research communications writer/editor