Part 3 – From Academia to Antibodies that WorkTM
It was about this time that I got a call from Antonio Norohna, the executive secretary handling my antibody grant. To my surprise, Antonio told me that he wanted me to make my antibodies commercially available. Well, this was a complete surprise to me, but Antonio made the good case that if NIH paid me all this money to make these antibodies, they didn’t want to have to fund other labs to produce them as well.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how to do what Antonio asked. I was just heading to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Miami in 1994. (As an aside, this was the year a hurricane nearly washed out the meeting. My wife and our 1-year-old son were there as well, and thankfully it wasn’t as bad as we feared. It was wet, however. I still remember my wife meeting me for lunch with Morgan in a stroller and the wind blowing his and her damp hair askew. They had been having a blast tooling around and were all smiles in the crazy weather.)
The Neuroscience meeting gave me an opportunity to learn how to commercialize my antibodies. I started visiting the exhibits, including a number of companies that had good reputations for quality, such as Calbiochem and Chemicon (both of which unfortunately disappeared into the maw of a company that shall remain nameless). To my extreme delight and surprise, when I mentioned my desire to find a way to commercialize my antibodies, there was a ready audience at these two companies and also at a company called American Qualex (which is still alive and kicking). At those three companies, I met three people who remain some of my closest friends to this day. They were John Snow, who ran Calbiochem, Dan Moothart, who ran American Qualex (AQ), and Carol Birmingham, who basically ran the Neuroscience component of Chemicon. All were incredibly supportive and helpful in licensing these antibodies from my University and distributing them worldwide.
I was also helped in this endeavor by the chair of my department, Dr. Boris Tabakoff, who had previously worked through the dean of our medical school to set up a company named Lohocla (alcohol spelled backwards). He started this company to develop his technology for addressing the problems of alcoholism. Since NMDA receptors were known to be an important target of alcohol, it was a good fit to work through his company to distribute my antibodies to Calbiochem, Chemicon and AQ. This arrangement worked smoothly until it became so large that dean met with us and suggested that we start a company independent of my chair to license and distribute these antibodies. By 2001, we had developed a total of ten antibodies, many of which are still widely used in studies of normal brain functions and also in diseases such as Parkinson’s and schizophrenia. We took advantage of the extremely fortuitous opening of the Colorado Bioscience Park – a building for new biotech companies that was about only a solidly hit two-iron away from our CU lab. We leased a lab in that new institution and started discussing a name for the new company. We knew we had experience in phospho-specific antibodies, but we also wanted to provide antibodies as solutions for other targets as well. My wife Julie suggested PhosphoSolutions. As I have often said before, good things happen when you listen to your wife. (The reverse may also be true.) Two of my closest friends John Haycock and Andy Czernik helped me found the company and taught me much of what I know about antibodies. We then hired Kristin Nixon to run the lab in September 2001. For the next 20 years she helped grow the company, all the while maintaining my vision of reproducible, highly-specific antibodies. This was one of the smartest moves we ever made, as Kristin is now President and CEO of the company.
Shoes, hurricanes, and red meat. I have been so fortunate to have had so many wonderful experiences in this journey. The highlight of it all has been all the wonderful friends I have made. Our antibody community is a great place to be.