by Mark Carter
Posted 2/4/2013 12:00 am
Updated 10 months ago
Ellen Brune’s “science project” turned into a viable business venture, one that could save lives.
Boston Mountain Biotech is Brune’s University of Arkansas startup that developed a way to simplify the production of proteins used in drugs to treat many diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Basically, BMB’s technology cleans up protein contaminants, and drug companies spend roughly $8 million a year trying to do that during protein production, according to the UA.
The idea for the company was hatched in one of Carol Reeves’ entrepreneurship classes at the UA and has grown into an award-winning venture poised to compete in the protein purification arena.
Reeves is something of an entrepreneurship guru, recognized nationally for her work in mentoring UA startups to success against the likes of Ivy League institutions in international business plan competitions. She said Brune is standing out among the successful entrepreneurs she’s mentored.
“Ellen has done a tremendous job in moving Boston Mountain Biotech from a science project to a business,” Reeves said. “She is one of the rare scientists who understands how important it is to respond to the needs of her customers.”
The BMB technology was developed by Brune, a doctoral candidate in the UA’s Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering, and researchers at the UA and the University of Pittsburgh.
BMB’s transformation from class project to research organization began in November 2011.
Ricky Draehn, Brune's father and a former ConAgra and Anheuser-Busch executive, was brought in as CEO to lend his business expertise. He and Brune soon began competing in prestigious competitions, including Moot Corp at the University of Texas, and won a total of $50,000 in prize money.
In addition, Brune participated in the prestigious NSF I-Corp program at Stanford.
"The I-Corp program selected 25 teams from various universities to undergo startup training with expert entrepreneur Steve Blank," Brune said. "The teams were awarded $50,000 to help with market research and to pay for two five-day 'bootcamps' at Stanford. It was through this program that we were able to further vet our technology with companies in the industry and begin searching for customers and future partners."
BMB, an Innovate Arkansas client firm, just opened its first private equity round. Brune, who serves as the firm’s chief science officer, plans to keep the company in Fayetteville and operate as a contract research organization supporting the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.
Brune said BMB’s Lotus suite of designer cell lines stands out because it eliminates nuisance contaminants and is production ready, unlike other products in the industry.
She said pharmaceutical companies that start protein development with Lotus will have the ability to:
- Compress development timelines by up to one-third,
- Reduce manufacturing time and costs by up to half,
- Increase final product yields by at least 30 percent and
- Implement Lotus with their existing equipment.
Brune said BMB is further differentiating its research by focusing on “data-driven analysis of nuisance proteins” leading to “reduction of nuisance contaminants while accelerating growth.”
Reeves believes BMB’s research has the potential to “save thousands of lives” if it continues to progress. It will make orphan drugs cost effective, she said. Orphan drugs refer to those drugs developed specifically to treat an uncommon medical condition.
“It will also lower the cost to manufacture other pharmaceuticals, which is important as we struggle to improve health outcomes without increasing the price of drugs,” she said.
See also: Ellen Brune's 5 Tips for Startup Success