Oregon knew it had the talent and the ideas, but the question was how to get to the marketplace.  The answer was the the Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute (OTRADI).   

“Our technology sector needed funds to commercialize their products so our goal was to work with universities and small companies to help bring in those funds, ” said Jennifer Fox, executive director of OTRADI.

And she has kept her word. Through grant partnering and helping to attract federal, private and venture capital funding, from 2008 until 2013, OTRADI and OTRADI-affiliated researchers leveraged $12.5 million in state investment into more than $73 million in private, federal and foundation funding for Oregon.

Bioscience was chosen as the recipient of these funds given its growth potential both as an industry and a source of jobs. So the group built the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator, a 13,000 square-foot multi-tenant complex, that opened June 19, 2013. Amazingly the cost of the incubator was $1 million and by October it reached fulled capacity.

“The pace at which the OBI was filled underscores the demand for affordable wet lab space in the Portland area,” said Fox. “Bioscience has a promising future in Oregon, and by addressing the growing need for sophisticated facilities, the OBI will incentivize bioscience companies to keep or bring their businesses and discoveries to Portland.”

Companies locating at the complex have access to world-class scientific expertise as well as cutting-edge shared equipment, shared conference facilities and private lab and office space. Each client company commits to a one-year minimum lease, with the goal of encouraging existing companies to reach the next phase of growth and to open space for new bioscience companies in need of the OBI’s facility and offerings.

Additional office space is offered as part of OBI’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program intended to support and mentor bioscience-focused entrepreneurs.

The Path to Success

One tenant, AbSci, is a perfect example of the development track that the organization can facilitate. Established in 2011 the company’s R&D lab was housed at the Portland State Business Accelerator.

CEO Sean McClain and his co-founder developed the idea outside of the university and received some seed money for proof of concept. Angel funding combined with partnering with pharma companies moved the company forward.

As its research was successful in producing soluble proteins without inclusion bodies for two different proteins— full-length antibodies (March 2012) and manganese peroxidase (January 2013), it needed more lab space and moved in to the incubator in June. 

“We have discovered game changing technology that is a fraction of the cost of what currently is available,” explains McClain. “The products have applications in industrial use, biofuels and biopharmacy.”

The company currently has a licensing model in which they partner with a pharma company to manufacture their protein anti-bodies and reduce the overall costs. But unlike many other companies, McClain is not looking to sell his company to a larger pharma company. He intends to continue to grow his company and expand its applications, while staying in the area.

Since joining the OBI, several client companies have already celebrated significant milestones, including 13therapeutics and Aronora, which received a collective $3 million in funding this year from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And research in Oregeon recently got a huge boost when Phil Knight, Nike co-founder, pledged to donate $500 million to the Oregon Health and Science University for cancer research if the university can match that number in the next two years.

As for the future for reasearch derived from OTRADI, growth will continue. “As success breeds success OTRADI has a goal of working with 10-15 new companies each year,” Miller explains. “This can mean growing existing companies or bringing in new companies.”

Businesses Located in the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator

13therapeutics -A research and drug development company that identifies and characterizes novel anti-inflammatory therapeutics. To date, the company has attracted multiple millions of dollars in funding from the NIH. Currently, the company is working on its lead peptide, intended to prevent and treat noise-induced hearing loss.

Aronora- A biopharmaceutical startup that develops therapeutic agents used to treat severe, rapidly progressing or catastrophic thrombotic blood clotting diseases. Aronora is the recipient of multiple awards from the NIH, as well as a participant in Bayer's Grants4Targets initiative

AbSci – The company developed a proprietary system that optimizes and scales the production of antibodies and therapeutic proteins used in cancer and hormone therapies, as well as autoimmune and blood disorder therapies.

Floragenex -A biotechnology company that specializes in RAD Sequencing, a breakthrough technology that enables scientists to efficiently discover and genotype large amounts of genetic information in any plant or animal system.

Senju Pharmaceutical -The company  develops ophthalmological products for the ears, eyes, nose, skin and throat. For nearly three decades, Senju has collaborated with international research initiatives, academic institutions and researchers, and industry specialists around the world. After joining the OBI, Senju Pharmaceutical now operates two U.S.-based laboratories.