A student stuck in a mandatory high school chemistry class might not be excited by a lecture about enzymes.
But if that student were wrongly accused of a serious crime and could only be exonerated by DNA evidence, he might be wildly excited about them.
Enzymes are proteins that play a key role in tests for DNA, illegal drugs, and the presence of diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
A young but growing biotechnology company in Irmo – Integrated Micro-Chromatography Systems – helps improve how that testing is conducted in labs across the U.S. Although the company has been operating for less than a year, it completed work earlier this month on a 9,000-square-foot state-of-the-art laboratory.
The facility positions the company to boost its productivity and set its eyes on a global market.
“We supply well over 300 clients across the U.S and Canada and we’re looking to expand internationally,” said Andrew Lee, research and development director at the company, often called IMCS. “We’ve been shipping to Norway, New Zealand, Dubai. Everything is done here.”
IMCS was founded at the start of the year by Lee, Qian Wang and William Brewer. All three are University of South Carolina scientists.
They have put their chemistry and biotechnology backgrounds and skills together to create cutting-edge technology that addresses efficiency in lab testing while also focusing on medical applications dealing with deadly diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
The company’s flagship product, IMCSzyme, improves the accuracy and quality of samples used in tests, which can have a range of implications from politics to forensic science and toxicology.
“That’s especially important as people’s lives oftentimes hang in the balance” because of legal issues, said Mark Hanna, IMCS chief financial officer. The new Irmo plant will allow IMCS to increase production of its IMCSzyme 10-fold, the company said.
At the plant, IMCS first grows the organism that produces the enzyme, then purifies it, Hanna said. The enzyme reduces the time required for drug testing laboratories to analyze urine for the presence of various prescription and illicit drugs, the company says.
The company’s clients include medical labs, forensic toxicology labs, businesses that perform drug tests as part of a background check for hiring, the FBI, the National Institutes of Health and others.
Lee, Wang and Brewer got their start – and the support necessary to nourish and develop a successful business — through the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, IdeaLabs, Technology Commercialization, and Innovista. The programs can be a buffer to the risk-taking that often stops entrepreneurs in their tracks.
The services “help mitigate those risks by providing a host of resources, networking and mentorship to companies just starting out,” said Bill Kirkland of USC’s Office of Economic Engagement and IdeaLabs. He oversees the university’s technology incubator.
“IMCS is a perfect example of how research can be applied to create a commercially viable enterprise,” he said.
The new company, which employs 20 people, manufactures all of its products at the Irmo plant and performs research and development as well, Lee said. It also has a partnership with Clemson University.
Five scientists are involved in research and development, Lee said. Relentless R&D work is necessary to support the philosophy of providing customized and precision medical care, he said.
“We esssentially empower our laboratory partners to practice precise diagnostic procedures in support of the concepts of precision medicine as it relates to biotechnology,” Hanna said. Cutting-edge treatments for cancer and other chronic diseases such as diabetes depend on a physician’s ability to provide treatment specific to individuals, Hanna said.
“We have those kinds of technologies – the enzymes and the ‘tips’ – but our big, strategic focus has been that precision medicine: how we interpret the individual to facilitate that customized medical care. How do we develop services and tools based on our expertise to facilitate that model?”
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398