BIO Innovation Zone Company Snapshots: PhylloTech, LLC

Next month in San Diego at the BIO International Convention, BIO will be partnering with the National Science foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)to host the first-ever BIO Innovation Zone. The Zone will feature Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funded early-stage biotech companies.

The SBIR/STTR program provides U.S. federal funding to small businesses engaged in research with the potential for commercialization. Companies are rigorously vetted through the NIH and NSF SBIR review process prior to receiving the funding. The majority of participating companies in the Innovation Zone have received SBIR Phase II grants, which provide up to $1 million dollars in funding to engage in R&D that has the potential for commercialization.

Over the new few weeks, we will feature snapshots of a few of the companies who will participate in the Zone. This week, we interviewed Ryan Shepherd, the CEO of Madison, Wisconsin-based PhylloTech, LLC, a small business supported by NSF’s SBIR program. 

What is your company’s lead product or technology?

PhylloTech is an agricultural biotechnology company located in Madison, WI. My name is Ryan Shepherd, and I am the company’s co-founder and CEO.

Our lead technology is a bioproduction system for proteins in plants. We use specialized leaf surface structures called trichomes to produce challenging protein targets, and we avoid the high costs of protein purification associated with competing systems by using a natural method of purification from underlying plant tissues.

We’re also pioneering the environmentally friendly management of plant pathogens using protein-based antimicrobials, including a new class of biofungicides termed phylloplanins and enzymes that inhibit bacterial quorum-sensing.

How has the NSF SBIR program helped your company grow?

The National Science Foundation SBIR program has provided most of the financing for PhylloTech to date and so has been extremely important to us, but our interactions with NSF started even before the company.

I was a NSF postdoctoral fellow in microbial biology at the University of California-Berkeley from 2005-2006. Danielle Stacy, our R&D manager, will be joining me at BIO 2014. She was a NSF graduate fellow while she earned her PhD in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

On behalf of me and my company, I would really like to thank NSF for their support. They have provided us with the opportunity to build our team, develop our research program, and introduce our company to the world. Only a few years ago our technology was just a promising idea, but we’ve now taken it to a working prototype for enzyme production with competitive harvest yields, and our team has grown from two people to six people.

What are the upcoming milestones and long-term priorities for your company?

I want to finalize some promising interactions with larger companies in the next few months, as well as introduce our technology to potential customers, investors, and other strategic partners. We’ve made incredible progress with our technologies and I want to make sure that we build a sustainable business while keeping focused on customer needs.

What do you hope to gain out of your participation at the 2014 BIO International Convention?

This is going to be our first BIO Convention and we’re very excited to be attending. We want to meet as many people as we can, and we hope to introduce our technology to groups interested in alternative strategies for protein production.

Most people working in biotechnology have had problems with protein expression at one time or another. They should talk with us about trying our system. We’ll probably be able to help. We’d also like to meet with groups looking for holistic pathogen controls.

Tell us something about your company that investors might not know.

We are one of the most resourceful and creative teams in biotech. Many of us at PhylloTech come from agricultural backgrounds and so we grew up fixing problems as they arose with available means, even if we had to invent the tools.

Our academic training is interdisciplinary and our expertise ranges from molecular biology to chemistry to plant pathology. Our morning team meetings are fast-paced and invigorating, and we use every bit of our diverse experience to come up with solutions, not only to the day-to-day research demands in our lab but to the larger challenges that are facing our customers. We truly look forward to attending the 2014 BIO Convention, and please stop by our exhibit in the Innovation Zone.

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