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April 03, 2018 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Fairview’s 490 BioTech had two experiments aboard SpaceX launch

Fairview Technology Center 2(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of four articles focused on the Fairview Technology Center, probably the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s oldest business incubator.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

This month is really significant for Dan Close and the other team members at 490 BioTech, the local start-up located in the Fairview Technology Center that is providing high quality bioluminescent cell lines that don’t require external luciferin treatments to function.

Two of the company’s experiments were among those included in the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched two days ago from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Close told us late Monday that the Dragon CRS-14 should dock with the International Space Station today (April 4) and the experiments will start-up in the next few days.

490 BioTech’s work is part of a larger effort under auspices of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). The latter is the manager of the International Space Station (ISS), and the mission of CASIS is to maximize use of the unparalleled research platform for innovation to benefit life on Earth.

“It’s really exciting,” Close told us in a recent interview. “The project has gone really well for us thus far. I’ll be able to go down and help prepare the materials.”

490 BioTech’s implementation partner in the development of the experiments is a company named BioServe Space Technologies. The 30-year old organization, part of the University of Colorado Boulder, has designed, built and flown microgravity life science research and hardware on more than 55 space flight missions.

“They sit between CASIS and recipients of grants and help coordinate to make sure we can construct projects within available resources and without violating NASA safety restrictions,” Close explained.

What’s the benefit of being part of an experiment conducted on the ISS? Close says that “growing human cells in microgravity helps them act more like natural human physiology. The experiment will help us demonstrate that the cost of doing drug screenings with our technology is significantly less expensive than existing technology.”

Founded in 2011 by well-known University of Tennessee researcher Gary Sayler and several others, 490 BioTech is now in what Close describes as the second phase of its evolution and growth. The first five years included standing-up the company and securing several Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. Now, the start-up is in what he describes as Phase 2 . . . retailing products and building a distribution system through partners.

“This period will go another three or so years,” Close adds before Phase 3 – the self-sustaining period – occurs.

SBIR awards are the lifeblood for many life science companies, and that has been the case with 490 BioTech which just transitioned two Phase I awards to Phase IIs. The latter bring considerably more resources to the table, a fact that has helped support some expansion at 490 BioTech.

The start-up has four full-time staffers – two with doctorates and two with technical backgrounds – and plans to add a fifth this year. Close is part-time for now.

How has 490 BioTech benefitted from its three years at the Fairview Technology Center?

“Fairview provided us a turnkey lab solution,” Close said. “We have a fully functioning lab and office space in one location rather than two. It’s a great environment and undersold resource for new companies.”

An important factor in his positive views is the point emphasized in the first article in this series.

“You’re stepping into a community that is very friendly and wants you to be successful,” Close says. “There’s such a range of companies. We have drawn on them and are now helping other tenants.”

As far as his entrepreneurial journey, Close says that he has “learned so much. My expectations and time scales have become more realistic. We’re thinking longer term now, but we know we can get there.”

NEXT: an update on NuSirt Biopharma.

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