Scientist grows biotech empire from local farm
by Kathryn Finegan Clark - Bucks County Herald
Gregory F. Krug's Lampire labs supply antibodies from sheep's blood
The thing to remember about Gregory F. Krug, president of Lampire Biological Laboratories, Inc., is he's an entrepreneur-scientist, a man who knows as much about growing a business as he does about growing live cells.
An absolute whirlwind of ideas and activities, Krug, 53, has not turned a sow's ear into a silk purse yet. But he has created a biotech supply empire from sheep's blood, with annual revenues exceeding $10 million. "It's not about me," he said. "It's about my employees. I couldn't do this without them."
Lampire supplies antibodies, animal blood products and other items to the pharmaceutical and biological testing industry and employs 130 in various facets of the work.
Two facilities are in Bucks County. Corporate headquarters and a 40-acre farm share an Ottsville address and Lampire's biotech research and resource center is in Pipersville.
A processing laboratory is located in Coopersburg, Lehigh County, and a 400-acre farm is situated in Everett, Bedford County. A ribbon-cutting took place Oct. 26 for the $2 million Everett Bioprocessing Laboratory at the Everett Business Park. Among the speakers was James C. Greenwood, former Bucks County congressman, president and chief operating officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).
Krug said, "We're a supplier of raw materials. What coal is to the steel industry, we are to the diagnostic, biotech and pharmaceutical industries." The materials his company produces, the animal blood, antibodies and cell-culture devices, are used by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, research labs, manufacturers and universities, and are necessary for medical research to continue its march forward. Krug declined to discuss revenues, but published reports have set them in excess of $10 million annually.
"We're not just a lab that supplies blood," Krug said. "We're a custom-house. We produce hundreds of products for our clients." Krug is particularly proud of one of his newer products, a cell-culture bag that can be used to grow cells and produce antibodies. He said, "We can grow stem cells and cancer cells in these and we think one day we may be able to grow organs in them."
As a supplier of antibodies for medical tests, Lampire plays a behind-the-scenes role in testing for pregnancy, drugs of abuse, infectious diseases, E.coli and salmonella contamination and even anthrax.
Lampire antibodies are also used to develop cancer drugs. "Now," said Krug, "we can even test to determine if a person has suffered a heart attack or a stroke."
Krug's story, and Lampire's, begins in 1976 when he was a junior at Delaware Valley College and a student of Dr. James Diamond, now dean of agricultural and environmental sciences at the school.
Diamond, who had a sheep farm, was trying to make his business more profitable. He knew sheep's blood, which shares certain characteristics with human blood, was used for scientific testing, a market he wanted to tap.
Diamond knew where all the sheep farmers were in the eastern part of the state, and Krug began collecting blood for a New Jersey laboratory. One lab ordered a year's supply of blood to use in detecting disease. The following year, Krug, working with a partner who subsequently left the business, leased two farms and started to raise his own animals, and he was off and running. He continues to maintain closed herds to avoid the risk of outside disease and contaminant. Feed, forage and water are tested routinely.
The company has now broken into global status, and Krug was named 2006 SBA Small Business Exporter of the Year for eastern Pennsylvania as well as the Mid-Atlantic Region. Lampire's customers include Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Pfizer Inc., Schering-Plough Corp. and Wyeth and Abbott Laboratories.
Working with those companies has also placed Lampire in a position to do business globally. Direct export to Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Africa accounts for about 40 percent of the company's revenue. Government contracts, including those with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, have contributed to the company's growth.
Lampire's Biotech research and Resource Center in Plumstead Township is a 12,000 square-foot building with clean-room manufacturing and testing laboratories and cell-banking services in addition to tissue culture and purification laboratories. It is an impressive, sterile environment and visitors must wear booted and hooded suits to prevent outside contamination.
Todd Otto, operations manager at the biotechnology center, said the sterile conditions are monitored constantly. He said, "Once we noticed there was a peak in contamination on our monitor and we finally discovered it had to do with the people tracking mulch into the building so we had the mulch replaced with pebbles and that solved the problem."
Otto said all the cleaning is done in-house and, in fact, he uses the same water used in injectibles to clean the floor to ward off any possible contamination.
Facing off the sterility and no-nonsense white-walled environment of the interior are handsome statues and colorful flowers and shrubbery surrounding the building. All the greenery is grown on Lampire's farms, and Andrew Stednitz, the company's packaging engineer, sculpted all the statues.
Krug said, "We got into raising our own plants indirectly as we were looking into producing antibodies in plants; however, we did not move forward with the project but decided to put the greenhouse to use. We have found it enables us to have better control over our floral designs for the facilities, and is an activity which many people in the company take part in, a diversion from day-to-day production and everyone enjoys it."
Otto said training a new employee can take as long as two years. "And then some of them leave," said Krug, philosophically expressing a common workplace headache, "but some of them have come back, too." One scientist, Krug said, commutes daily from the Jersey Shore and another from Delaware. He adds proudly, "I have the kind of employees who will even come in off-hours and on weekends to check on a project." Lampire pays competitive salaries and offers a comprehensive benefits package, which includes a 401K plan and profit sharing.
Krug's company also reaches out to the community, taking part in local activities and sponsoring science projects at schools. Four Pennridge High School students last year completed a project related to hand-washing and the spread of disease and won national and regional contests along with thousands of dollars in prize money.
Someday one of them may work at Lampire.
What's in a name?
"It's pronounced Lampire, as in vampire, and there's a reason for that," said Dr. James Diamond, dean of agricultural and environmental sciences at Delaware Valley College, who was involved in the company's earliest days.
In the 1970's, Diamond who was getting ready to start work on his Ph.D. at Penn State, was seeking ways to make his sheep blood farm more profitable, at least profitable enough to cover the taxes on his farm in Nockamixon Township. He sold lambs, he sold the sheep and he sheared them, but the return still wasn't high enough.
So he worked with Krug to find a way to procure the blood but still keep the sheep alive and well. They discovered sheep could be bled once every eight weeks without ill effects if they were fed a supplemental diet.
Diamond said, "I found the farmers and Greg went around and collected the sheep's blood, often at night and in pasture by lantern light." One farmer watched them one night as Greg was bleeding a lamb and remarked, "I know what you guys are, you're lampires."
"The word just seemed to hang on and it's the name Greg eventually adopted for his company."
Diamond said, "Greg is an amazing, unique man. He took a concept, ran with it and turned it into a multi-million-dollar company without having to take it public.