What do you do in Vermont if you're having trouble finding work in the biosciences? Start your own business! That's what biochemist Margaret Doyle did in 1995 when she founded Research Proteins, Inc. Her initial concept was a small business to conduct contract research on protein chemistry, especially protein purification from diverse biological sources. But in the years since Research Proteins was founded this focus has shifted, to the point where Paul Haley, Scientific Director and Dr. Doyle's husband, calls the company name a bit of a misnomer.
These days, Research Proteins focuses on contract and venture R&D, mostly related to invitro diagnostics and some therapeutics. Typically, they charge a fee-for-service on projects stabilizing existing chemistry in new contexts or developing new chemical processes.
While their products are used by approximately 150 diagnostic companies across the country, Research Proteins operates very behind-the-scenes. When they are brought in on a project, often it's because they're asked to solve a problem as a third party by a vendor company. The company that ultimately uses the developed product may never even know that Research Proteins was involved.
Over the years, unexpected opportunities have popped up for the company. Occasionally Research Proteins will do work in exchange for equity in a new medical start-up. Dr. Haley described several spin-off companies they've supported, including a point-of-care monitor for Warfarin therapy and a hemostatic dressing. After coming on board to develop the chemistry involved in the hemostatic dressing, Research Proteins ultimately pursued the opportunity by founding a separate company to handle the manufacturing.
I asked Dr. Haley what memorable lessons he's learned in growing a small biosciences company in Vermont. "Find other people for advice," he said, "even if you don't listen to it at first!" When they started out, with limited resources and limited experience, he and Dr. Doyle thought they could do everything. In retrospect, he wishes they'd just spent the money on services like legal advice and accounting, because it would have been worth the time they saved.
These days Dr. Haley feels like Research Proteins has hit its stride and is humming along. He projects some steady growth over the next few years, with a couple of hires in the future. He commented that without the support of his longtime colleague and friend, Dr. William Church of Green Mountain Antibodies, this may not have been possible. Their vision for the VBSA professional network is that it will serve as a similar resource to other biotech startups seeking advice, facilities and local talent.
Dr. Haley expects opportunities in the biosciences will continue to grow in Vermont. He sees a general need in the state for more career opportunities for highly educated people, and the biosciences need highly educated people. At the same time, bioscience businesses often don't require invasively large infrastructure. "All you really need is an idea, a small space, and FedEx," Dr. Haley jokes. An industry with a small footprint is a good fit for a small state. In fact, like most small businesses, Research Proteins started in the family garage. Today it occupies 8000 square feet in Essex Junction.