April 18, 2006

NanoScreen expanding business, getting smaller

Sheila Watson  /  CRBJ

NanoScreen LLC, a manufacturing company that specializes in the production and packaging of pharmaceutical research supplies, has just gotten smaller - in the size of its new 1536 pipette, used for distributing small amounts of liquid accurately.

"These are the next generation of pipettes," said President and CEO Daniel Dechert. "We're the only ones in the world who make this size pipette and syringe."

The pipettes and syringes fit on a 7-microliter head, which is arranged on a machine that can dispense fluids into 1,536 cylinders at a time. "Three years ago, I would have said this size could not be built," Dechert said. "That's how cutting edge this is."

The previous generation of machinery to perform the task was a 384 head and microplate, which dispenses fluids into 384 cylinders at a time. That technology was developed in 1998. The latest technology is capable of producing four times that amount.

NanoScreen introduced the product at the Society of Biomolecular Screening in Geneva, Switzerland."The reaction when we introduced it was amazing," Dechert said. "We saw their eyes light up. Then they would go and get other people to come and see it."

The product at the show was a prototype. As soon as Dechert was back in the states, the 1536 was put into testing. Novartis offered to be the first lab to bring it in for testing. In January, NanoScreen introduced the test data at the Lab Automation Show in Palm Springs.

"Since then, several customers have approached us and asked us to bring it in for their own demos," he said. "And one of our largest competitors asked to put this head on their machine."

Better test results

In addition to the increased dispensing capabilities, the 1536 enables increased accuracy.

"Because the syringe is so much smaller, there's less air," said Dechert. "That allows the testing to be much more accurate." Dechert said from the first test, accuracy was up and speed of processing was increased by about two-thirds.

"When you're running thousands of plates a day, that's significant," said Noelle Webb, NanoScreen's general manager.

Besides producing the syringe, pipettes and heads, NanoScreen is also beginning to produce the machines that use the heads to draw and dispense the fluids. The heads are made of solid titanium, which Dechert said is a strong, corrosion-resistant substance.

Charleston connection

When Dechert first came to Charleston, he met with Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Digital Corridor, who introduced him to people and companies that could help him establish his business in the area. "There's a lot of machining we need to do, and we do a lot of shipping internationally and overnight," Dechert said. "We wanted to make sure we could still do that, and we wanted to make sure the infrastructure was here."

NanoScreen is building a new facility in the Charleston Regional Business Park where it will expand its current workforce of 25. "It's not difficult to recruit people to Charleston. Everyone wants to come here," Dechert said.

When the building is finished, construction will begin almost immediately on a second facility that will house some of the manufacturing that currently takes place in California. Dechert hopes other biotech industries might be persuaded to follow suit.

"We bring research scientists to Charleston when they come to demo the products," he said. "We introduce them to Charleston. They get a good look around and see what this area is capable of. Who knows where that might lead one day?"