Affinergy formed based on the research of two research professors at Duke University. We formed in 2003. The professors had been doing work several years before that around attaching biologics to surfaces, and the underlying technology was peptides that bind different biologic agents – bind cells, bind proteins, and also peptides that bind surfaces like metals and polymers.
Through a course I took at the business school, I was fortunate to partner with these two brilliant individuals and got to work with them and some other students on a business plan and company was formed.
We are solving a few different problems. One of the important ones is improving the healing of medical implants and we do that by a couple of different ways. We are working on a couple different ways to help bones grow faster. We’re working on a couple of different ways for stem cells to be delivered and more efficacious after implantation. In general trying to get the body to better accept foreign implant materials that are implanted in it.
We have a staff of 25 people, most are on the science side, about 22 of those are on the science development side. More than half of the staff have PhDs in biologic or chemical disciplines. And the company is primarily funded by a good bit of NIH SBIR grants as well as in the past some partner funding.
And we are rather focused toward some of our first products that are in the later stages of development that will bring recurring revenue to the company over the next several years.
Early on one of our biggest challenges was where to focus. Many technology platforms appear to be able to do just about anything or you think you can do 10 or 15 different things. The way to succeed is to pick 1 or 2 topics that you’re best at and to really focus efforts around them. Succeeding at one thing is challenging enough, and when you try to succeed at half-a-dozen, you just dilute your efforts. So that was certainly one of the earliest challenges that we faced. More recent, our challenges are continuing to recruit top-tier staff. Making sure over time we can bring experienced people to the table who have broad medical device products and marketing and continually filling the company with people that will make us succeed because what we do here is very people-focused, and they make the difference in developing a sound product that’s going to help patients.
To date it’s been a really nice accomplishment to be able to have a forum for job creation. Having 25 people that are involved and are contributing, and 25 people whose families are relying on the jobs that have been created, I think, is a nice accomplishment. Ultimately, we all want to measure ourselves by bringing products to market, but I think at an interim point creating something that other people care about to spend their time working at and their careers at makes me feel good at least.
I think I heard about the SBTDC at a conference. Early on they pointed me to a couple of different channels for funding. This was at the stage where we didn’t have any money, and they pointed me to some local resources at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center who then eventually gave us some loans and helped us get started.
The SBTDC pointed the SBIR program out to us in a good bit of depth and connected me with some of the solicitations to look into and learn more about. At later stage, [the SBTDC] even review one of our early grant proposals with a little more scientific content and gave us some feedback on that. So this was really at a point where we weren’t successful at SBIR grants and that funding channel, they pointed us in a direction to explore that channel further.
Our future plans are to stay pretty focused around our first few product applications. It took us a long time to get focused as a company, and that was some of our early missteps – working a little too broadly. But now that we’ve focused on orthopedics and a few first specific products, we’re going to really try to drive those to market and make an impact on those. Longer term, work in the area of stem cell delivery and improving stem cells and stems cells involvement on implantable devices in the next 3 to 5 year timeframe.
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