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Hauptman-Woodward spinoff speeds up search for new drugs

Health & Tech is a regular feature highlighting life sciences and high-tech companies throughout the region.

Company name: HarkerBIO

Address: 700 Ellicott St.

Website: www.harkerbio.com

Year founded: 2014

Origin: A commercial spinoff of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute

Industry: Biopharmaceutical

Description: HarkerBIO uses structural biology to help pharmaceutical companies save time and money in their search for new drugs.

Number of employees: 8

Financing raised to date: $1.25 million

Lowdown: HarkerBIO, which grew out of technology developed at Hauptman-Woodward, expanded its business model last year and is on a hiring binge this year.

The company is a contract research organization that works with major pharmaceutical firms, helping them better understand the three-dimensional structures of the proteins involved in diseases.

The idea for HarkerBIO grew out of interest among Hauptman-Woodward officials in commercializing the nonprofit research institute’s key asset, its high-throughput X-ray crystallization laboratory, said James Biltekoff, a former board member and board chair of Hauptman-Woodward.

The lab, which is highly effective at crystallizing proteins, primarily had served academic clients. But Biltekoff and other Hauptman-Woodward officials saw its potential for generating revenue for the institute and pushed to form a spinoff company, HarkerBIO, in 2014 that would crystallize protein samples for its clients.

HarkerBIO was accepted into the StartUp NY tax-free zone program later that year.

By mid-2015, at the urging of a consultant, Paul Sargeant, who also served for a time as CEO, HarkerBIO began offering a broader suite of services to pharmaceutical clients, said Biltekoff, who serves as executive chairman of HarkerBIO.

The drug development process is expensive, as it costs about $1 billion to bring a successful drug to market.

Pharmaceutical companies come to HarkerBIO when they’ve identified a drug target, generally a protein, said Artem Evdokimov, who was brought on as CEO and chief scientific officer last summer.

There are a staggering number of molecules that could be used to make drugs that need to be observed to see how they would work against the target protein. Using conventional screening for all of those molecules is prohibitively expensive, Evdokimov said.

However, a cluster of computers can process the three-dimensional structural information of the target protein and data from a virtual library of chemical compounds and quickly generate prospective drug leads for the companies.

After the pharmaceutical companies test the computer-generated drug leads in the lab, they often send them back for HarkerBIO to examine the three-dimensional structure of how the protein and the molecule candidate fit together.

All of this work by HarkerBIO speeds up the drug development process, saving the companies money, too.

“And, you’re increasing the chances of success,” Evdokimov said.

HarkerBIO’s clients include six of the 12 largest pharmaceutical companies in the country, although Evdokimov said he wasn’t allowed to identify them.

The company doubled its workforce, from four to eight, in the last three months and plans to have 12 employees in its laboratory and offices in the institute by the end of the year.

HarkerBIO has a marketing agreement with Albany Molecular Research, a drug discovery company, and a partnership with CUBRC Inc., a research and development company based in Cheektowaga.

It has bookings of $500,000 for the current fiscal year and projects an annual revenue of $8 million by 2020.

As HarkerBIO looks to the future, can it find success in Buffalo Niagara? Evdokimov said this isn’t Boston or San Diego, but he pointed to local examples of established and up-and-coming biotech companies, such as Athenex and OmniSEQ.

Kristin Sutton, the company’s fourth employee and its senior project manager, said HarkerBIO has managed to hire a mix of local and out-of-town scientific talent and the rent for office and lab space in Buffalo is relatively low.

“I guess it remains to be seen,” she said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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