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Kent State Signs Second Tenant for Centennial Research Park

Posted Sep, 6, 2010

Universities are increasingly playing key roles in driving technology-based economic development across the country. Kent State University recently took an important step in this area with the signing of Pathogen Systems Inc. as the second tenant in Centennial Research Park, the business accelerator located at the intersection of state routes 59 and 261.

Pathogen Systems Inc., which does business as Crystal Diagnostics, will lease 4,000 square feet of the facility with plans to eventually occupy the entire 10,000 square feet of remaining space. Pathogen Systems Inc., in partnership with Kent State and the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (NEOUCOM), has developed a liquid crystal-based biosensor that could dramatically alter the time required to detect harmful bacteria in water and other substances. The firm, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., plans to house manufacturing and commercial operations at Centennial Research Park and will continue to do research and lab work at NEOUCOM.

"We are very pleased with the progress Crystal Diagnostics has made in commercializing the biosensor technology jointly developed by Kent State and NEOUCOM," says Sonia Alemagno, interim vice president for research at Kent State. "We welcome them as a tenant in Centennial Research Park as they look to accelerate their growth."

Standard water testing in a lab currently takes 24 to 48 hours to complete.  The rapid sensitive real-time device being developed by Crystal Diagnostics will cut that time to 30 minutes or less. Water quality issues have been in the headlines most of the summer in Ohio, as high bacteria counts and algae blooms have closed lakes all over the state. Experts predict the increasing need for clean freshwater will be a significant issue in the coming years.

"This technology is expected to be able to detect a host of microbes, which include both bacteria and viruses," says Bob Bunting, CEO of Crystal Diagnostics. "It has broad implications for pathogen detection in the water and environment, as well as in the food, medical and defense industries. But right now, water testing is driving the technology, since water is a tough foe. With water, you are looking for very small amounts of pathogens."

The firm currently has four employees in research and development at NEOUCOM with plans to add more as the project develops. Crystal Diagnostics currently has six employees in Boulder. The company was formed in 2006 when Bunting felt the technology was advanced enough to pursue commercial applications. "Research began about six years prior to that," Bunting says.

Centennial Research Park was created in 2007 on the site of a 40,000-square-foot former bus garage in Kent. The first tenant, AlphaMicron Inc., was started in 1997 by former faculty members of Kent State's Liquid Crystal Institute and now occupies 30,000 square feet of the facility.

AlphaMicron held a grand opening celebration on Sept. 14, 2009, in Centennial Research Park.

"Plans are finalized for the renovations to the space that will take place this fall, and we expect to be moving into Centennial Research Park around the beginning of 2011," Bunting says.

In 2008, Kent State, NEOUCOM and Pathogen Systems Inc. received a $3 million grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Wright Projects Program, which provides support to near-term commercialization projects requiring major capital acquisitions and improvements at Ohio higher education institutions and nonprofit research organizations. Approximately $430,000 of those funds will be used to upgrade the space for Crystal Diagnostics.

"The Third Frontier Grant was absolutely critical to success of this project," Bunting says.  He adds that the firm has raised approximately $8 million in private investment and hopes to raise $2 million more.

In 2009, the firm was honored with a NorTech Innovation Award, presented by the Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition and Crain's Cleveland Business, for Crystal Diagnostics' cutting-edge research.

In about a year, Crystal Diagnostics hopes to begin exploring strategic partnerships with large players in the diagnostic testing market, Bunting says. "There are a number of established companies that have significant expertise in this area, but they don't have the speed our device offers," he says. "We believe our technology will be very attractive to their customers and be a nice fit with their product lines."

The following year, the company hopes to enter the end product market with a recreational water testing device. "This is a platform technology in the marketplace," Bunting says. "Additional applications will open many new doors for us."

"This three-way partnership is bringing well-paying jobs to the area economy, and strengthening Northeast Ohio's position in the global marketplace," says Iris Harvey, Kent State's vice president for university relations and chief communications officer. "This technology could also have a profound public health impact, and we are proud to be working with this groundbreaking company."

By Bob Burford