by Mark Carter
Posted 10/1/2013 09:41 am
Updated 12 months ago
It's been a good year for Vivione Biosciences of Pine Bluff. This past spring, the RAPID-B technology firm went public and last month, it signed a deal to develop its food-borne pathogen detection kits.
CEO Kevin Kuykendall expects an even bigger 2014. Last week, he and his staff expressed thanks to state officials including Gov. Mike Beebe and the private benefactors and investors who helped the Innovate Arkansas and ASTA startup get up and running.
Vivione leases about 2,000-SF of lab space at the Pine Bluff Arsenal and is up to 11 employees, seven of those full-time. Long term, the company said it wants to partner with the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, which is developing the Bioplex, a tech park on 1,500 acres of land deeded it by the Pine Bluff Arsenal in 2001.
The land sits adjacent to the Food and Drug Administration's National Center for Toxicological Research, with whom Vivione partnered to develop a diagnostic technology that can detect E. coli and other bacteria in food in a matter of minutes and hours as opposed to days or longer.
Beebe applauded Vivione's work with NCTR.
"Public-private research partnerships are critical to the development of new products that benefit our people and keep America competitive," he said. "The biotech sector is an important driver of our knowledge-based, 21st-century economy."
In 2011, Beebe signed a deal with the FDA to establish a nanotechnology research partnership between NCTR and the state's research universities. The memorandum of understanding was a first; the FDA had never before entered into an MOU with an entire state.
More recently, the Arkansas Research Alliance signed a partnership deal with FDA to help commercialize research coming out of NCTR.
Vivione is in position to capitalize. Kuykendall expects long-awaited certification requirements for the company's testing to be complete by the first quarter of 2014. Vivione already is working with "three of four large companies" and Kuykendall expects more will line up once the certification process is complete.
Kuykendall called the multi-year certification process "the pivotal influence on the market acceptance."
"The certification is critical when detection of pathogenic bacteria is used for releasing product to the public, thus corporations will not use detection systems that are not certified," he said. "The Vivione system is more sensitive and accurate than the reference systems used by certification agencies, which has created a need for an adjusted process of certification. Vivione's system counts individual cells, but the reference method counts colonies of cells."
Once the certification process involving Vivione's method is complete, collaboration with the state and federal government promises big things. Kuykendall said the collaborative spirit in Arkansas has placed Vivione in a position to succeed.
"It takes a village to raise a kid and build a company," he said.
Kuykendall, who has worked with companies across the country, said the collaborative spirit he's encountered in Arkansas is unique.
"There's no other place I know, except maybe the Research Triangle in North Carolina, that's this cohesive," he said. "If we can just get a few national success stories, a lot of folks are going to want to move to Arkansas. We've tapped the surface, but there's a lot more tapping to go."