After initial success performing research and drug trials for large pharmaceutical manufacturers, a young Memphis biotech firm is ready to swing for the fences.
CirQuest Labs is preparing to begin research and de- velopment into its own anti-clotting drugs.
CirQuest hopes to receive a $450,000 Small Business Innovation Research Grant in March from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Technology. If its initial research efforts show promise, CirQuest could qualify for a second grant worth up to $1.
The move into research, says Lisa
Jennings, president and founder of CirQuest, is essential for the long- term growth of the company.
“As a services company, you’re pretty much worth whatever contracts you have at the moment, “Jennings says., “We’re trying to solidify our position, and a potential inven- tionordiscoverycouldlockusinor offshoot into another company.”
The company is working to develop a drug that will isolate the positive effects of several vascular drugs into one dosage. The drug would block platelets from clumping or destroy blood clots that form in coronary arteries. The company submitted a grant application to SBA for research of the drug.
CirQuest was founded in 2008 by Jennings, who remains a professor of vascular biology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. A long-time specialist in platelet research, Jennings isolated and studied a protein that was responsible for clotting and clumping in red blood cells and has been working with pharmaceutical companies since the mid-1990s on re- search and development of vascular drugs. She was approached by several colleagues a few years ago about doing contract work in the private sector and launched CirQuest for that purpose.
Jennings and CirQuest have performed research and clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies including Schering-Plough Corp., Merck & Co. Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. and Millen- nium Pharmaceuticals.
The company is currently working on two separate clinical trials, one in Asia that will include residents of South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and China, and another in Amman, Jordan, for two pharmaceutical clients.
CirQuest operates its lab in 2,225-square feet on Madison Avenue.
Like many startup biotech firms, CirQuest initially struggled to generate revenue. After reporting no rev- enue in 2009, CirQuest had revenue of $1.5 million in 2010 through contracts for research and drug trials. With current contracts and the possibility of successful research and development of its own drugs, Cir- Quest could increase revenue to $2 million in 2011.
“Because we have very large clients, we can expand our client base horizontally to see what else we could do for them,” Jennings says. “If we’re helping them analyze samples, we can help store them as well.”
The company currently employs six people, who Jennings says can easily handle the current workload. However, more contracts would mean adding more re- searchers, possibly two or three by the end of the year.
While the initial success of CirQuest on the service side adds to the city’s biotech industry, Steve Bares, executive director of Memphis Bioworks Foundation, says Jennings’ expertise in vascular biology gives the company a strong starting point for the development of its own products.
“All bioscience companies expand and move into new areas,” Bares says. “The business plan they start with may not be the one they end with. That’s part of the ecosystem, and you want to encourage that.”