Assay Depot Founders Morphed Their Biotech Startup Into e-Commerce Provider of Drug Discovery Services

12/17/09Follow @bvbigelow

The three co-founders of San Diego’s Assay Depot started the company in 2006 as a for-hire cancer research outfit, with the big idea of creating a Web-based system that would make it super easy for biomedical researchers to order assays, screening tests, and other lab services.

“We were building the website and we really wanted it to be special,” co-founder Kevin Lustig tells me. “We wanted customers to come to our website and get information, request quotes, and place orders.”

But Lustig says they stopped in their tracks after several other contract research organizations (or CROs) that provide biotech laboratory services asked him if they could be included in the website that co-founders Andrew Martin and Chris Petersen were building. Lustig recalls asking himself, “Maybe we’re going in the wrong direction. Maybe what we should do is bring all the CROs into one place.”

Assay Depot CEO Kevin Lustig

Assay Depot CEO Kevin Lustig

Lustig, who got his doctorate in cell biology at UC San Francisco, has spent his career in biotech. He was previously a co-founder and research director at Kalypsys, a San Diego biopharmaceutical firm with high-speed molecular testing capabilities that was spun out of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation. But co-founders Martin and Petersen had fundamentally different skills. While they both had also worked at Kalypsys, Martin headed informatics and Petersen led software development. So their in-house expertise made it possible to transform what began as a biotech services startup into more of an IT startup—a full-service, e-commerce website that Lustig describes as an Amazon.com for biotechs and biomedical scientists.

Assay Depot automates a CRO hiring process that can take a principal investigator days or even weeks to work out, Lustig says. “If I’m a scientist, I have to talk to 10 CROs. I have to sign a master service agreement with each one, then a legal agreement, and then I can begin negotiating, and that all takes time.” In contrast, Lustig says Assay Depot’s online marketplace includes thousands of laboratory tests and services, and enables scientists to buy services they want or to post a request for bids.

The website also enables CROs to list the laboratory services they provide, and the prices. CROs pre-sign the requisite master services agreement, confidentiality forms, and other documents when they register to list their … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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