In 2003, two UCSB students entered the UCSB New Venture Business Plan Competition with an exciting idea – to form a company dedicated to harnessing the power of UCSB’s Nobel Prize winning conductive polymers for medical diagnostics and biomedical research. One of these students, who remains as Sirigen’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Brent Gaylord, had experienced the potential of the polymers first hand as part of his doctoral dissertation under the direction of UCSB Professor Guillermo Bazan. Much of the motivation, as Dr. Gaylord offers, came from the prospect of “addressing clear and fundamental needs in biological detection with novel and defensible materials whose commercial utility had previously been realized in various electronic applications”. The technology is currently being developed by a team at Sirigen whose composition is reflective of the interdisciplinary research culture for which UCSB is known.
A wide range of medical tests and biological research tools rely on tagging specific biomolecules with fluorescent reporters to create a measurable signal. The light harvesting fluorescent polymers developed by UCSB and Sirigen dramatically increase the intensity of these signals, greatly enhancing the ability of conventional tests to detect specific antigens, proteins or nucleic acids that might be present in a biological sample. Another unique facet of the technology is the ability to “tune” specific material properties for a given testing format or product. This has enabled, among other things, the development of multicolor tests that can detect a variety of pathogens simultaneously in the same sample, with little loss in accuracy. Such advances have been independently validated in the detection of cellular markers by flow cytometry, a technique commonly used in the clinical diagnosis of lymphomas and HIV patient monitoring.
These novel polymers hold the promise of rapid, accurate diagnostic tests that could provide instant results to doctors and their patients about multiple diseases. The polymers are also positioned to dramatically improve the tests used routinely by biomedical researchers in their search for new treatments for diseases.
After winning the UCSB business competition the two students teamed up with Professor Bazan and, with the support from the local community and several UCSB alums, formed Sirigen. The team went on to secure a license to the polymer technology and were awarded a $2.1M grant from the US Army and the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies at UCSB. By 2006 it had concluded a Series A investment and attracted Dr. Nick Kerton who would eventually become Sirigen’s CEO. Sirigen was on the path to success and had in earnest begun to refine the commercial opportunities and develop the first commercially available high fluorescence (HSF) polymers. The following year Sirigen signed its first major commercial contract, solidifying the business model and a subsequent venture capital investment from Seraphim and Oxford Capital in 2008.
Today, Sirigen has locations in both San Diego, CA and Ringwood, UK and has grown to over 15 employees, >70% of which are California residents (annual payroll approaching $1M in CA). They have raised nearly $10M in funding (including $9M from the UK) and have formalized product development projects with more than 6 global diagnostic and life science companies. Nearly half of Sirigen’s contracted partners and commercial prospects have major operations in California and all of the company’s chemistry development and production activities are also based in California. To support the technical development, Sirigen has employed 6 UCSB graduates (11 UC alum in total) including Dr. Janice Hong, Sirigen’s Quality Manager, and Dr. Glenn Bartholomew, Sirigen’s Director of Chemistry, both of whom earned their PhDs with Professor Bazan.
Sirigen’s first High Sensitivity Fluorescent™ polymers (HSF™) are expected to reach the marketplace by early 2011 using an “Intel Inside” business strategy. By partnering with key leaders and innovators in the diagnostic market Sirigen expects to recognize value in a wide variety of applications while retaining focus on its core strengths. Sirigen is targeting profitably in the next two years through the sale if its first major product lines as it continues to expand into new applications including molecular diagnostics. “The Sirigen team has developed strong and supportive commercial partnerships and a core technology that will enable next generation diagnostic platforms capable of increasing the availability and depth of diagnostic information” offers Dr. Gaylord. Sirigen strives to live up to its mission by providing “the brilliance of discovery”™.
In late 2012 Sirigen was acquired by global medical technology company Becton Dickinson.
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