NHGRI SBIR Grantees: Steven Fodor, PhD, Glenn Fu, PhD, Aria Chaney, MBA, and Christina Fan, PhD
"The really attractive features of the SBIR program are:
- Involvement with a community of people that care about your problem.
- Receiving calibrated feedback through peer review.
- Getting access to non-equity money that can be used to focus on science and product development.
The whole model works very, very well."
-Dr. Stephen Fodor, Cellular Research Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Small biotech companies find the NIH SBIR program an ideal place to hone their ideas and find non-dilutive support for developing novel biomedical technologies. Cellular Research has successfully applied for and received four SBIR awards that allowed the newly formed company to develop products for the analysis of individual DNA and RNA molecules with broad applicability to genomics, biomedical research and ultimately patient care.
Cellular Research Inc. is a biotechnology company in Menlo Park, California that has developed and is applying a method for high-resolution quantification of nucleic acids in single cells. Founded in 2011 by Stephen Fodor and Glenn Fu, previously of Affymetrix, and Ari Chaney, previously from Stanford University, Cellular Research developed the PRECISE™ and the Resolve™ Assay Systems . Both product lines use molecular indices to label comprehensive cDNA libraries whereby transcripts can be individually counted and traced to each cell. Cellular Research’s efforts were supported in part through funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) as part of the NIH SBIR program.
Cellular Research applied to NHGRI for SBIR funding in order to focus on developing higher precision next generation assays for single cell genomic analysis. The company was awarded two Phase I grants in 2012, one of which progressed to Phase II in 2014 and led to in the Precise Assay. The company was also awarded a Direct-to-Phase II grant in 2015 to support the development of the Resolve System. Dr. Fodor explains that the benefits of working with SBIR program are many, including SBIR community support, scientific peer review, and access to non-dilutive funding.
At first, according to Dr. Fu, “it was a very high-risk venture with crazy, pie-in-the-sky ideas. There was a lot of skepticism of how these assays and workflows were going to work. After we received funding, and started working on the project, and with the wonderful addition of Dr. Christina Fan, we were able to quickly demonstrate that this was a viable approach.” Dr. Fu concluded by saying “to be able to explore high-risk technology, and let the experiments dictate how the discoveries and inventions progress was an extremely rare opportunity which turned out very well.” Cellular Research invested heavily in the development of their technologies to create products beneficial to the scientific community and profitable for the company. Dr. Fodor explains their approach “is all about focus, starting small, and nimble in order to demonstrate first the science and second the commercial strategy. The early money can be very powerful, and with NIH SBIR funding, if you spend it right, it can take you a long way in working out your product line.”
In mid- 2015, Becton Dickson (BD) Life Sciences acquired Cellular Research . The acquisition will allow BD Life Sciences to integrate Cellular Research’s single cell genomic approaches into BD’s existing flow cytometry and cellular assay technologies. Cellular Research’s products, such as the Precise and the Resolve systems, will also be disseminated through BD’s customer network. Cellular Research will continue to develop their products in the biotechnology field as part of BD.
Information for this success story was gathered through an interview with Drs. Fodor, and Fu, and Mr. Chaney that was conducted by Dr. Michael Smith, the NIH SBIR/STTR Program Director coordinator for NHGRI, Betty Royster, the NIH SBIR/STTR Communications Coordinator, and Kevin Lee, a Program Analyst at NHGRI.