15 Jul Chipping Away at Drug Development
That is, until he gets to the better drugs, faster part of the speech. That’s where the rubber of all the science behind the Madison-based company’s products is likely to hit the road, especially as the largest generation of Americans nears the age when diseases and treatments become as common in conversation as golf games and grandkids.
GenTel, the two and a half-year-old company that Vodenlich joined as president earlier this year, recently restructured its business model, shifting away from out-licensing fruits of research it was to sponsor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and instead focusing on products–namely biochips. The intent is to manufacture small plates with glass, silicon, gold and diamond substrates and sell them to companies doing research in breakthrough medical fields such as genomics and proteomics, two fields intimately tied to the medical breakthroughs that have helped to put UW-Madison squarely atop the medical research field.
With its GenLink surfaces and surface chemistry products, GenTel is hoping to meet its basic challenge: taking lab research and making it pay.
“How do you take university technology that’s unproven in the marketplace [and] turn technology into a product that actually has commercial value?” mused Vodenlich about his company’s plight. “And then, how do you go about marketing and selling that product?”
“Market research reports only go so far,” he said. Fortunately, Vodenlich and his fellow officers at GenTel have the warm contacts at the Mercks and Pfizers of the world to move beyond cold calls and into market research meetings to test-drive their ideas. Plus, they have a leader with enough marketing savvy to push the 800-pound gorilla of applications for its chips–drug research.
“What it really means is better drugs, faster,” Vodenlich said. “Essentially, a biochip is a way to put hundreds, possibly thousands of test sites on a chip [to] look for better drugs or diagnose disease or [view] interesting interactions on a molecular level. ”
“Biochips are a logical place to start for DNA and protein arrays,” he said.
“Biochips play at both the protein and nucleic acid levels and are being used by many researchers today to measure gene expression and analyze the very complex interactions of proteins,” said Dr. Lloyd M. Smith, developer of the property that GenTel originally licensed from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
“Drug companies are interested in knowing what drugs do and dissecting the pathways involved in disease to find out what critical molecules are in that pathway that causes the disease so they can then try to make drugs that [address] that weakness,” said Smith, director of the Genome Center at UW-Madison.
To do that well, researchers have to have uniform, consistent surfaces that allow them to analyze control subjects without the variations that can taint the results and slow the research. What GenTel is hoping to do is help to speed up that research process by giving scientists the tools to streamline their research and make it more transferable from chip to chip, lab to lab and in the end, enhance the life sciences’ ability to make discoveries.
“We’ve got the technology here in Wisconsin that really is biotechnology oriented and will really help expedite the discovery of new drugs and better medical devices”, Vodenlich said. “We’re just part of the underlying opportunity and growth the biotech industry will see and the benefit it can bring to society in general.”
Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at Lincoln@wistechnology.com.