It was almost by accident that Jinxiang Zhou started his own company.
In 2013, Scott Husson, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Clemson University, was working with another student on technology to create biologic drugs – therapies that are produced by living systems. The technology being developed would allow faster purification processes for biopharmaceuticals.
That former student decided not to continue the work with Husson and moved on to work in the commercial sector. That’s where Zhou came in.
“He (Husson) asked if I would be interested in looking at the technology and we started Purilogics in July 2013,” Zhou said.
Now, Purilogics aims to commercialize the technology of single-use disposable membrane products with high-binding capability in hopes of speeding up the purification of new drug candidates and streamlining the production of biologic drugs. The biologic drugs are part of a growth sector of new drugs to fight cancer, diabetes, auto immune and inflammatory diseases and develop vaccines.
The company was recently awarded a $150,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to help with the commercialization process.
“We interviewed different customers from different pharmaceutical companies and they were looking for technology that works in buffer conditions,” Zhou said. “For this project, we are trying to come up with new membranes that have a broad range of conductivities for different conditions.”
The grant will allow Purilogics to work with Charleston Pharma LLC and Bristol-Myers Squibb in developing the commercial application.
Getting a start
Purilogics didn’t just start in a laboratory. The company was accepted by SCBIO, a non-profit trade association that represents biotechnology manufacturers, into its incubator program in 2015.
“We do a lot of mentoring because we have a start-up university,” said Wayne Roper, “But, this is the first year of the Quick Start program and Purilogics is part of the first class.”
SCBIO’s Quick Start program helped Purilogics by providing $14,000 in professional services to help move the company to its goal. The money helped as the company is located at Greenville Health System’s Innovation Zone in Greenville and has one full-time employee.
“They have been very successful in moving forward to find this funding,” Roper said. “This is just the beginning for them and for the other programs that went through the Quick Start program.”
Purilogics has also received funding from the Michelin Science Foundation and Clemson University to forward the commercialization of the technology. In all, the company has raised approximately $181,000 coupled with an additional $70,000 in funding prior to the company’s start.
“We want to tell people that this is the value we have created for the technology,” Zhou said.
As part of the incubator program, Purilogics was assisted with marketing, legal counsel on licensing and other professional services for its website. There was also mentoring on financial plans and projections, according to Roper.
“This is what we call the innovation ecosystem,” Roper said. “It is a whole network to get innovation companies to market and other companies have been there and they will mentor companies who haven’t been there yet.”
Both Roper and Zhou hope to see Purilogics break into a biopharmaceuticals sector that is projected to capture a $221 billion market in 2017 with 1,500 biomolecules undergoing clinical trials. It could mean up to 20% of the market by the end of 2017.
According to Roper, nearly half of the top 100 prescriptions are projected to be biologics by 2020.
“They are aiming at the biologics manufacturing market and that is a very hot, cutting edge sector,” Roper said. “We are hoping that this positions South Carolina as a player in the biologics market.”
Zhou said the goal is to have products and sell them to pharmaceutical companies but “there’s a lot of things that have to be done before that.”
Purilogics will start looking for other grants for other product development in the future.
“These grants only support research, they do not support the manufacturing or the sales of the products,” Zhou said. “We still have to find that kind of funding, perhaps from angels or venture capitalists.”