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Nanotech jobs coming to Greenville

A discovery by a Clemson University professor 4 1/2 years ago has led to a new corporate headquarters for Greenville and the promise of 65 good-paying jobs.

It's the latest sign that South Carolina's push into technology-based economic development is beginning to bear fruit after many years.

Selah Technologies, a startup company formed to commercialize nanotechnology discovered by chemistry professor Ya-Ping Sun, was acquired Thursday by Lab21 Ltd., a medical diagnostics firm based in Cambridge, England, executives with both companies said.

The eight-employee Selah now becomes Lab21's new U.S. subsidiary, which plans a headquarters and laboratory in downtown Greenville and a distribution center somewhere in the Upstate.

All told, the British company plans to create 57 new jobs in Greenville over five years, said Michael Bolick, who founded Selah in 2006 and is now president of Lab21 Inc. in the United States.

Numerous organizations that are part of a growing network in South Carolina for fostering technology-based development helped nurture Selah and facilitate its sale to the fast-growing U.K. firm.

Also playing a key role was the University of South Carolina, whose Nanocenter guided Selah's decision to focus on cancer detection - at least initially - instead of trying to apply the nanotechnology in other potential markets such as cosmetics or lighting.

The carbon-based nanoparticles glow when exposed to light and can be programmed to attach to cancer cells, potentially helping doctors locate the disease. That could add value to Lab21's diagnostic products, chief executive officer Graham Mullis said.

Both Clemson and USC would collect royalties from the sale of any products that employ the nanotechnology for diagnosis, Bolick said. USC could also benefit from an equity stake in Lab21, he said.

Bill Mahoney, chief executive officer of the S.C. Research Authority, which provided funding for the company through its SC Launch affiliate, said the deal "demonstrates exactly how the knowledge economy development playbook works. These are going to be happening with more frequency over the next year or so."

Lab21, which sells laboratory services and kits for medical diagnosis, is a privately held company employs 85 people at five sites in the United Kingdom.

Graham Mullis, chief executive officer, said that Lab21's revenues have tripled in recent months through a combination of organic growth and the acquisition of three diagnostics businesses. Terms of its purchase of Selah, its fourth acquisition this year, were not disclosed.

Playing a key role in the deal was Nexus Medical Partners, a Boston-area private equity firm that received $20 million to invest in South Carolina through the state's venture capital program.

Nexus, which invested in Lab21 last year, introduced the two companies and provided additional money to establish the new operation in Greenville, said Ed Snapes and Gregory Zaic, partners with the Massachusetts firm. They wouldn't disclose Nexus' contribution but said it was the firm's biggest investment in South Carolina to date.

Bolick said the 57 new jobs will include executives, scientists, engineers and lab technicians. He said Lab21 would maintain Selah's research office inside a Clemson business incubator in Pendleton.

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