CARLSBAD — Preparing to open Carlsbad’s community lab and life science incubator by May this year, the facility’s operators and local patrons are recruiting up-and-coming scientists and biotech entrepreneurs to launch the facility’s inaugural research projects.
“The goal is to enable the kinds of research that people want to pursue and, in many cases, have not been able to pursue within the confines of their day job or academic position,” said Joseph Jackson, cofounder of Bio, Tech, and Beyond, LLC, the company that runs the facility and its programs.
The community lab was designed to help cut the costs of performing independent research and launching start-up science companies by offering lab space, equipment, and specialized teaching and advice from experienced scientists working in the industry, all at minimal cost.
“What the city of Carlsbad has done is taken away a big obstacle to begin in biotech R and D (research and development): the cost of facilities and power and overhead,” said Babak Esmaeli-Azad, a stem cell researcher and the founder and CEO of DNAmicroarray, Inc.
Esmaeli-Azad has donated equipment useful for cell and stem cell biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry to the Carlsbad facility, and is intimately familiar with the struggles of launching a biotech company.
He started his first company while working on his doctorate in molecular biology at UC Santa Barbara. He and his friends made a PCR machine, which amplifies segments of DNA, in his living room.
“We invested $450 of our starving grad student salary to make our own prototype,” said Esmaeli-Azad.
They hired a salesman to sell the product. But after selling five of the machines for several thousands of dollars, the salesman took off with the profits and was never found.
Today, Esmaeli-Azad has been successfully running his company since its founding in 1997. He laughs about his ill-fated PCR machine venture, yet, he’s eager to support the new community lab to spare other budding scientists and entrepreneurs the same hindrances.
“The biotech field is not suffering from lack of ideas,” Esmaeli-Azad said. Rather, he said that investment in newcomers and entrepreneurs is scarce, and equipment often costs thousands of dollars.
By granting access to such equipment and requiring minimal fees to use the space, the lab aims to minimize the start-up costs of conducting independent research.
Bio, Tech, and Beyond, LLC plans to host a number of classes in specialized biotech fields to help newer scientists gain the expertise needed to carry out innovative work.
The city of Carlsbad, which owns the building, agreed to lease the facility and invest in the lab and incubator at the end of last month.
Now setting up the facility, Bio, Tech, and Beyond, LLC is courting proposals from people interested in using the facility.
“As long as a particular research project falls within our safety guidelines, we would have no reason to reject anyone unless demand is so great that we can’t accommodate any more in the space,” said Jackson.
Eventually the company plans to implement an application and selection process once the facility is more established and receives greater numbers of inquiries, he said.
Initially, all research conducted in the lab will be at the lowest level of biocontainment precautions required by the Center for Disease Control. All experiments will involve only well-characterized, non-pathogenic organisms such as E. coli and yeast, according to Jackson.
Jackson said they’ll have control over what chemicals and specimens are used in the facility and will manage any potentially hazardous or flammable chemicals. The company will also require training for those wishing to use some of the lab’s more expensive and delicate equipment.
“There is very little, to no risk associated with the kinds of routine activities that will be conducted day to day,” said Jackson.
Bio, Tech, and Beyond, LLC was recently granted access to the building and is currently accepting donated lab equipment from local companies like Esmaeli-Azad’s.
The company is working on setting up the facility, fundraising and curriculum planning and development in anticipation of the opening by mid-May this year.