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Student Dissertation Launches San Diego Life Sciences Tools Company, Sirigen

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a number of pathogens, including anthrax and the strain of staphylococcus bacteria responsible for food poisoning. In another example, Sirigen collaborated with Novartis to develop a research tool that allowed the Swiss drug maker to detect possible biomarkers for multiple sclerosis.

Still, it takes more than a promising technology to bring a life sciences company to the brink of commercialization in six short years. In the case of Sirigen, a number of factors helped the company reach this point.

—The importance of mentors: Gaylord’s academic advisor, UC Santa Barbara chemistry professor Guillermo Bazan, was a scientific co-founder of the company. Another early supporter was UC Santa Barbara physicist and Nobel laureate Alan Heeger, whose discovery of conductive polymers paved the way for Gaylord’s research. Having scientific heavyweights in its corner helped tiny Sirigen obtain rights to critical UC Santa Barbara patents, two of which name Gaylord as a co-inventor. Those intellectual property rights, in turn, enabled Sirigen to raise a total of $1.2 million in angel funding. “We had a tremendous amount of support in getting the company moving,” Gaylord says.

—Prove the technology on someone else’s dime: Sirigen collaborated with researchers from the Army and Bazan’s lab to develop an integrated system that could simultaneously detect multiple biological threats. The three-year project, which provided an important demonstration of Sirigen’s technology, received $2.1 million from the Army. Although the Army did not become a customer, the project gave Sirigen the scientific evidence it needed to seek out commercial partners.

—Stick to the plan: After Sirigen negotiated its first commercial deal in 2007, venture capital firms took notice. Many of them envisioned the company as a developer of point-of-care diagnostics, and offered Sirigen oodles of money. But the small company’s management team viewed the course advocated by those VCs as too long and too risky. Sirigen’s more conservative strategy called for reducing its risk through collaborations with existing tools and diagnostics producers on next-generation products. Sirigen raised about $5 million from UK investors Seraphim Capital and Oxford Capital Partners, which shared the small company’s vision.

Sirigen is now in the process of raising another $5 million to $6 million of venture funding. Gaylord says that amount will give Sirigen enough cash to support operations until the company becomes profitable, an event that’s expected in 2011. In today’s weak economy, Gaylord says, Sirigen’s conservative strategy looks attractive to possible funders, who are more focused on the potential for near-term profits and products than they were two years ago. As Gaylord says, “The future looks good.”

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Denise Gellene is a former Los Angeles Times science writer and regular contributor to Xconomy. You can reach her at dgellene@xconomy.com Follow @

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