Area's biotech efforts showcased

125 execs, scientists attend conference on cell media

News Business Reporter
  Click to view larger picture
Bill Wippert/Buffalo News
Jim Drozek of Invitrogen quality checks liquid cell culture media.


On the surface, the tour of the Invitrogen plant on Grand Island Tuesday was a straightforward event. About 125 business people and scientists were focusing on how to make material to feed mammalian cells.

But the gathering was part of a larger effort: proving that the Buffalo Niagara region is a viable home for biotech businesses.

As part of a three-day "Raw Materials and Contract Services" conference hosted by the Williamsburg BioProcessing Foundation (WilBio), participants toured Invitrogen Corp.'s bio manufacturing and testing facility in Grand Island. The full-facility tour of the 550-employee plant provided executives, sales staff, and researchers throughout the life sciences field with an intimate look at the production and testing of Invitrogen's GIBCO product line that provides physiological conditions and nutrients necessary for cells to grow outside their native environment.

"We came to keep in touch with the products and also to see the facility behind the name," said Linda Tao, of Seriologicals, a Georgia company that produces bovine serum albumin.

The conference, which began in 1999, provides in-depth coverage of specific process development and production issues for mammalian cell bioprocessing.

"Each year we hold the conference at a major subculture-media manufacturer," said WilBio chairman Keith Carson. "Invitrogen is one of the largest producers and the reason we are here."

Along with Invitrogen, BuffLink had a hand in bringing the conference to the area. The non-for-profit organization has been working since 2001 to promote the growth of life sciences companies and activity in the Buffalo Niagara region. Alan Olhoeft, chief operating officer of BuffLink, said the conference will show participants the region's highly skilled work force and modern facilities such as those of Invitrogen.

Before the Invitrogen tour, participants were taken on a short tour of the Buffalo Medical Campus. Although those from outside the area were unfamiliar with Buffalo's life sciences and bioinformatics, several said they saw potential for growth.

"From what I hear and what I see, investment in the area is impressive," said Carson, who works in Virginia. "More is going on here than I thought."

Many participants use the conference as a networking opportunity.

Others, such as Goerge Sitterly of Sigma-Aldrich Fine Chemicals in St. Louis, came to keep tabs on competitors and friends.

"You need to develop a relationship with your competitors," he said, while smiling and looking at a friend from Invitrogen.