President/CEO of BIO, Jim Greenwood and Congressman Patrick Murphy visit LAMPIRE
by Joseph P. Ferry
As most life scientists will attest, growing cells in a laboratory can be a costly, time-consuming process, with no guarantee of success. The roller bottles used in most labs are expensive, take up lots of storage space and need to be kept in constant motion to achieve optimal results.
Gregory F. Krug, president of Lampire Biological Laboratories and a 1977 DelVal grad, has come up with what he calls "an elegantly simple" approach to growing cells, a product that may eventually become the industry standard. Developed over four years in the company's biotechnology facility in Pipersville, Bucks County and introduced into the market in January 2006, the Lampire Cell Culture Bag is made of a proprietary ionomer plastic material that is so gas permeable that it allows the free exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and can simply be put into a CO2 incubator and does not require any rolling, rocking or shaking. In addition to saving space, the bags are optically clear, which means their living cells can be examined under a microscope.
The result of Lampire's innovation is a product that, according to independent tests, provides increased cell counts faster and at a lower cost, and with a reduced risk of contamination since the bags are disposable.
Already well-received among scientists, Krug, who helped to found Lampire while a student at DelVal, predicts the bag will play a key role in stem cell and cancer cell research. Some day, it could also be used to grow human organs, he says.
"We're very proud of the product," says Krug. "We were looking for an economical way to grow cells simply and decided we could come up with our own solution."
Such creative thinking is one reason Lampire, from its humble beginnings in a garage laboratory nearly 30 years ago, has grown into a multimillion dollar a year business that supplies a variety of animal blood products used in research and diagnostic applications by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, medical device makers, government agencies and academic institutions. The company has over 100 employees -- about 10 percent of them DelVal grads -- working at six facilities in Bucks, Lehigh and Bedford counties.
In fact, the company was founded on an innovative idea. While pursuing his degree in Animal Science, Krug was working part time at an elaborate equine facility near campus, cleaning stalls and helping the veterinarians, when owner Craig Tarler decided to sell.
After touring the facility, one prospective buyer decided he wasn't interested in acquiring the complex but would be interested in buying defibrinated horse and sheep blood, if Krug and Tarler could supply it. At the time, defibrinated blood -- which is collected without the use of an anticoagulant and is valued because of its sterility - was hard to come by. Suppliers were loathe to share their secret for collecting the blood that way.
For Tarler, a former public relations and marketing professional with no real experience in the life sciences, it represented an entrepreneurial opportunity. For Krug, it was a scientific challenge.
"One thing led to another," he recalls. "We had to figure out a way to collect blood that is naturally going to clot, not use an anticoagulant and do it in a sterile manner from an animal who might not want to participate willingly."
Tarler developed a crude process that involved a flask with marbles in it, and an electric shaker. Krug further modified the process and helped develop a more scientific technique. At one point, he tried using a sanding machine to perform the delicate shaking crucial to the process. After several tries, he finally came up with a technique that wasn't pretty but was effective.
Tarler eventually sold the farm and built a laboratory in his garage. With horses and sheep ear-tagged at several farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Krug and Tarler made their rounds collecting defibrinated blood to sell to microbiological media producers.
One night in Lancaster County, as they prepared to work, an Amish farmer watched in amazement. With a thick fog rolling in, Krug and Tarler worked by the light of a lantern hung from a pitchfork stuck in the ground. It must have been an eerie sight, says Krug.
"The farmer stroked his beard and said 'You guys aren't vampires. You're lampires," Krug recalls.
A company name was born.
After Krug graduated from DelVal, Lampire Biological Laboratories began to grow, supplying animal blood products from a variety of species, including chickens, horses and cows, for use in diagnostic tests. Two years later, Tarler went back to the PR industry and Krug took over the company. By 1980, Lampire entered the immunology field, collecting antibodies that could be used in diagnostic tests.
One of the earliest uses for the antibodies was in home pregnancy tests, a market that exploded in the early 1980s. The company also began supplying blood-related products used in immunochemistry, biotechnology, and drug discovery. Today, Lampire's blood-related products are in demand by companies that develop drug therapies, especially chemotherapy, and by the makers of analyzers that detect illegal drug use.
Lampire operates five facilities in three Pennsylvania counties. Its corporate headquarters and 12,000-square foot Biotech Research and Resources Center are in Pipersville, Bucks County. Registered and licensed with the Food and Drug Administration, the center features clean room manufacturing and quality control labs, cell culture suites, a purification laboratory and cell banking area where scientists handle contract in vitro antibody production and molecular biology controls.
About five miles to the north, in Ottsville, the company operates a 40-acre farm under rigorous standards where it raises horses, sheep, cattle and other animals that provide the blood donations. In its Coopersburg, Lehigh County, laboratory raw materials are processed, including protein purification, bulk filtration and antibodies.
Out in Bedford County, Lampire operates a 400-acre farm that produces custom antiserum, bulk serum, and red cell production programs. Nearby, the company is close to opening an 18,000-square foot, state-of-the-art bioprocessing laboratory in a renovated former textile factory, which will add 20 jobs immediately and 40 more in the next three years.
In an industry where sterility of process and exacting standards are a priority, Krug is almost fanatical about ensuring the company's herd of donor animals is treated well. Their diet is designed especially for each species. Air and water quality are constantly monitored and each animal's chemistry and health records are recorded at least monthly. Each facility is regulated by Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. This is a completely voluntary accreditation which must be earned and that is respected by industry and animal scientists worldwide.
Lampire's laboratories operate on an equally high standard, complying with all Food and Drug Administration, GLP (Good Laboratory Practices) and cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices.) These follow standard operating procedures to ensure the integrity of data produced by their instrumental analysts and laboratory work.
"Everything is ultra-clean," says Krug. "We have lots of documentation, lots of controls in place."
A self admitted "flag-waver for Pennsylvania," Krug is vocal proponent of growing the biotechnology industry in the state. As an active member of Pennsylvania Bio, he is always promoting opportunities available within the Commonwealth with such organizations as the Pennsylvania Greenhouses, Ben Franklin grants, KIZ and KOZ. He would like to see incentives provided to keep innovative products and companies from moving out of state. He favors a system similar to what is used in the horse-racing industry, which rewards home-grown winners with bonus purses.
"Pennsylvania has done a great job on the front end by investing money," he says. "But we need to harness the investments the state has made."
Krug has also become active in introducing youngsters to the world of life sciences. Lampire scientists often work with high school students on research projects to help them understand the enormous career-potential offered by the industry. Biotechnology companies will be more willing to establish facilities in Pennsylvania if they are convinced a qualified, motivated workforce is available, he says.
"If you give kids an opportunity to learn about the life sciences, it's worth its weight in gold," he says. "Seeing kids blossom is very, very rewarding. Biotechnology is still a relatively young industry. If we can create future workers for us and our clients, everybody comes out ahead."
Former Bucks County Congressman Jim Greenwood, now the president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) toured the Lampire facility in Pipersville in early June with current Bucks county congressman Patrick Murphy and came away impressed with Krug's efforts to get youngsters involved in the industry early.
With the promise of changes in healthcare and the way food and energy are produced, biotechnology will transform the way we live more than anything else, he says.
"What he is doing is extremely important," said Greenwood. "The challenge is to have kids who are prepared to be part of it, which means doing well in math and science. The key is getting them motivated to want to excel by showing them how exciting and promising the field is. Reaching out to kids in high school is a great way to do that."
Krug is still active with DelVal, regularly appearing at Career Day, offering internships and working with faculty members to locate equipment. In 2006, he served on the focus group that looked at all aspects of the college's operations.
Even as the company grows he works hard at maintaining a family atmosphere. Employees often participate in the group activities that raise funds in the community. When the Small Business Administration named Lampire its Exporter of the Year in 2006, Krug treated his workers and their families to a night at the Phillies.
That kind of treatment produces workers who are committed to the company and its mission to provide outstanding customer service. For DelVal grad Lynette D'Elia, it took leaving Lampire to realize what a great place it is to work. She joined the company in 2003 as an animal technician but left after three years for another lab. Within six weeks, she asked Krug for a chance to return, which he made happen. Today, she's in charge of protocol development.
"I wanted to come back because this is my home," she says. "I felt a lot of loyalty here, which I didn't feel in the other place. I am so happy to be back."