By Kevin O’Rourke
Germantown-based Zalgen Labs, LLC has named a recipient of the 2015 Life Sciences Impact Grant Award from the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
The program, introduced in December of 2014, was created to provide financial assistance to life sciences employers to retain jobs and stimulate the organic growth of the life sciences industry in Montgomery County.
“The county is committed to supporting the innovation economy,” commented Sally Sternbach, Acting Director, Department of Economic Development. “The Life Sciences Impact Grant is just one example of the comprehensive portfolio of programs that make up the MC Squared initiative.”
After careful consideration, eight Montgomery County companies were selected to receive a total of $185,000.
Zalgen Labs, with offices in the Germantown Innovation Center on Goldenrod Lane is a vaccine and diagnostics company targeting the Ebola virus. Zalgen Labs received an IMPACT grant for validating the rapid test recently approved by the World Health Organization. The 15 minute, specific and deployable test can mean the difference between containment of an outbreak and uncontrolled spread similar to unprecedented levels recently observed in West Africa.
Previous Ebola tests required several hours, constant supplies of electricity, and highly trained staff to be performed, but the new test cuts that to minutes. The test directly detects viral particles and trials in West Africa suggest that it correctly identified 92 percent of patients.
Zalgen Labs received a $10,000 2015 Life Sciences Impact Grant Award, according to Zalgen Labs Chief Executive Officer, Luis Branco.
“The award showed the commitment by Montgomery County and DED to support startup biotech companies in accomplishing their goals,” said Branco. “The grant was extremely valuable in permitting Zalgen Labs personnel to travel to Sierra Leone in November 2014 to validate the now WHO and FDA EUA-approved ReEBOV rapid diagnostic test.”
According to Branco, Zalgen will use the funds to defray the costs of the aforementioned trip, including travel, critical supplies and logistics support.
“Zalgen will continue to work on its diagnostic and immunotherapeutics platforms for viral hemorrhagic fevers, namely Lassa fever and Ebola. We will continue to support the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium members in developing, validating, and commercializing diagnostic and therapeutic platforms,” said Branco.
The Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium is a partnership of research institutes whose mission is to promote global health and safety by creating new products to diagnose, treat and significantly reduce the incidence and mortality rate of viral hemorrhagic fevers.
“We were extremely pleased with the quality and scope of the projects,” said Valerie Fremont, Ph.D., Director of Life Sciences and Health IT for MCDED. “There are many innovative and exciting developments in the biotech industry across the county which made selection especially difficult.”
Over twenty-five early to mid-stage biotech companies submitted applications covering sectors from medical devices to drug development. Each of these applications was carefully reviewed by a committee made up of individuals from the department, the private sector and regulatory agencies. The criteria for selection included, scientific merit, potential for additional economic development within the county, existing financial resources and ability to leverage investment.
“This program is another example of Montgomery County’s commitment to Life Sciences and to economic development,” added Ike Leggett, County Executive. “We were pleased with the interest in the program, proud of this year’s grant recipients and look forward to even more competition next year.”
The awards to each firm ranged from $10,000 to $25,000. Other recipients of the 2015 Life Sciences Grant were: Rockville-based 20/20 GeneSystems, Gaithersburg-based ConverGene, Derwood-based JMEA Corporation, Rockville-based MockV Solutions, Rockville-based Opticul Diagnostics, Rockville-based Therabron Therapeutics, and Gaithersburg-based VLP Therapeutics.
Top: Zalgen CEO, Luis Branco testing suspected Ebola blood samples in the biosafety hood at the Kenema Government Hospital Lassa fever laboratory located 300km east of Freetown, in Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone.
Next: Crowds disembarking from the Lungi to Freetown ferry currently undergo body temperature screening before proceeding into town.
Next: Branco performing last stages of confirmatory assays for Ebola. Following diagnosis with the rapid Ebola test a suite of confirmatory assays are performed to help validate the rapid test results.
Photos courtesy Zalgen Labs