Big in Biotech Supply
by Linda Loyd, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
From origins in a wrong turn, Lampire has built an empire.
Had Gregory Krug made a right turn instead of a left 30 years ago, his multimillion-dollar biotech supply business in Bucks County might never have happened.
In 1976, while a junior in animal science at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Krug made a wrong turn for a job interview. He ended up at a horse barn and veterinary clinic where owner Craig Tarler hired him to clean horse stalls.
The following year, the struggling horse farm was up for sale, and a New Jersey diagnostics firm, Clinical Sciences, approached Tarler about supplying $100,000 worth of sheep blood a year to use in agar culture plates that detect contamination or disease.
That's how Lampire Biological Laboratories in Pipersville was born
From modest beginnings working from the back of a pickup truck and paying farmers to bleed their sheep at farms throughout eastern Pennsylvania, Lampire has grown into a global supplier of animal blood, reagents, antibodies and other products, including cell-culture devices used by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, research labs, makers of diagnostic tests and universities.
The privately held firm, with 130 employees, owns two farms and has operation in five communities in Bucks, Bedford, and Lehigh Counties.
Krug said Lampire's revenue last year was "way in excess" of 10 million. The company is profitable, but Krug, who is president, will not discuss profits.
"Greg took hold of this company and grew it into a multimillion-dollar industry," said James Diamond, dead of agricultural and environmental sciences at Delaware Valley College. "He is a success story beyond success stories and a very unique person."
Thirty years ago, Diamond was a sheep farmer and a Bucks county vo-tech teacher. Lampire started with his sheep. Diamond knew where all the sheep farms were in eastern Pennsylvania, and he contacted the farmers.
In Lampire's early years, Krug drove the sheep blood they collected to a New Jersey laboratory that used it in diagnostic testing. He worked in the lab between midnight and 6 a.m., pouring the blood into containers in a sterile environment.
"Animal blood was our base product," Krug said. After a year, the company leased two farms and began raising its own animals.
Krug and Tarler built their first lab in Tarler�s garage, and washed glassware behind his kitchen. "It was a wild ride, a lot of funny stories," said Tarler, who in 1979 turned the business over to Krug, who is sole owner.
Krug and Tarler have different remembrances concerning the Lampire name. Krug, 53, recalls that the idea came from a Lancaster County farmer who quipped, "You guys aren't vampires... You are lampires." referring to the men's drawing sheep blood, sometimes by lantern light, at night in a pasture.
Tarler, 77, remembers that a boarder of horses at his horse barn jokingly called the sheep "your Lampire project, as a take-off on vampire. The 'lam' was a take-off on 'lamb'. It was strictly tongue in cheek. We laughed so hard that it stuck."
Tarler now owns a pipe tobacco manufacturing firm in North Carolina, but he remains close to Krug, whom he calls "like a fourth child to me." Greg has done a tremendous job, and he's done it all without having to take the company public."
In 2006, the US Small Business Administration named Krug its small business exporter of the year for eastern Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region. Krug was nominated by Univest National Bank in Souderton, which has been Lampire's bank since the mid-1990s and which provided financing for the company's expansion.
Joe Duerksen, Univest's senior vice president of corporate banking, said Lampire became a "global player" and established relationship with many U.S. companies selling products in other countries. The U.S. customers also opened doors for Lampire to do foreign based companies, he said
About 40 percent of Lampire's revenue comes from direct export of products overseas to Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, and 60 percent to 70 percent of overall sales are to U.S. companies that do business oversea, the company said.
Customers include Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Pfizer Inc., Schering-Plough Corp., Wyeth and Abbott Laboratories.
In the 1990s, Lampire began making monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies for medical tests to detect pregnancy, drugs of abuse, infections diseases, and contamination caused by E. coli and salmonella bacteria.
Lampire antibodies are used to develop cancer drugs and in diagnostic tests that can tell whether a person had a heart attack or stroke.
"We're not just a laboratory that farms blood," Krug said during a visit to his plant on Applebutter Road. "We are a custom house that makes products for clients," including the National Institutes of Health, Center for Disease control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and academic institution, including the University of Pennsylvania. "We also work with the U.S. Military."
Lampire's newest product is a cell culture bag that can be used instead of a bioreactor to grow cells and produce antibodies. Krug said the bag has implications for growing stem cells, cancer cells. "We have grown tissue in here, and we think we can possibly one day grow organs in this bag."
Lampire produces raw materials used in hundreds of health-care products. "What the coal mine is to the steel industry," Krug said, "we are to the diagnostic, biotech and pharmaceutical industries." Competitors include Covance Inc., Harlan, Scantibodies laboratory Inc. and Strategic Diagnostics Inc.
Denis 'Mickey' Flynn, president of Pennsylvania Bio, the industry group for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, said Lampire is one of 1,751 companies in the state "directly related" to the biopharmaceutical industry. He said Lampire products and service were "absolutely required and necessary" within the industry "to move research forward."
Flynn said he works with Krug on education and economic-development issues in Bedford County and legislative issues in Harrisburg and Washington. "He's not a one dimensional executive," Flynn said. "He sees the need to reach out and be involved in the total community."
Krug has helped high schools and technical schools in Bucks and Bedford Counties to establish agriculture biotechnology programs and curriculums, familiarize students with careers in science, and provide students internship.
Lampire recently supplied testing materials, equipment and staff support for a project at Pennridge High School in Perkasie on how proper hand washing might reduce the spread of disease. Four ninth grades won a national science, math and technology regional competition in March, and each received a $2,000 saving bond as prize money.