The technology of making things smaller has a Lawrence company poised to become much bigger.
CritiTech — the west Lawrence-based pharmaceutical firm — has added three new senior level management positions to its staff as its first international venture is set to begin operations this week.
“We’re getting to a very critical point with the company now,” said CEO David Johnston. “We’re ramping up and pursuing several options for collaboration and partnership.”
The company confirmed it has hired Matt McClorey, the former leader of the Lawrence-based Bioscience and Technology Business Center, to serve as the company’s first chief operating officer.
McClorey announced earlier this month he was leaving the successful bioscience incubator on Kansas University’s West Campus, and said at the time he was set to take a management role with a Lawrence-based technology company.
CritiTech also announced it has hired McClorey’s No. 2 executive at the bioscience incubator. Jeffrey Morrison, the former executive director of operations and client development at the bioscience and technology center, has been hired to serve as CritiTech’s chief financial officer.
Gary Clapp, the former leader of a life sciences institute at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, also has been hired to serve as CritiTech’s vice president of technical operations.
“I came here, in part, because I think there is a real growth story at CritiTech,” McClorey said. “The technology is real and it has been validated. The industry is beginning to take notice.”
CritiTech focuses on technology that makes drug particles smaller. The technology — developed at KU in the 1990s by researcher Bala Subramaniam — allows drugs to be more easily absorbed by the body. For example, the technology makes it possible for some drugs that currently can only be administered orally to be delivered in the future via patches, inhalers, injections and other methods.
CritiTech — through a partnership with a Wichita-based manufacturer — has begun manufacturing a new device that allows pharmaceutical companies to convert key drug ingredients into small particle formats.
“The industry has tried to do this unsuccessfully for decades,” said Sam Campbell, a longtime Lawrence-based technology investor who serves as chairman for CritiTech. “So the industry had come to believe that it wasn’t possible to do on any large scale.
“We’ve proven that you can, and what has resulted is what I would call an explosion of interest from the industry.”
CritiTech in July signed its first international deal to form a joint venture with an India-based pharmaceutical firm. CritiTech’s small particle device is scheduled to begin operating this week in a laboratory in India.
Johnston said he’s confident three to five other international deals will be finalized in the next 18 months. Deals in Europe and Japan are likely, Johnston said.
The company’s international growth, however, is expected to create growth in Lawrence for the firm. Campbell said the company is working to finalize a deal for about 10,000 square feet of new office and laboratory space in Lawrence in the next six months. Currently, the company has its laboratory at Bob Billings and Wakarusa in the city-county owned bioscience expansion center, which is located in the former Oread Labs complex.
Johnston estimates that the company likely will grow from 16 employees today to more than 50 in the next five years. The company doesn’t envision manufacturing the small particle devices in Lawrence, but it does believe Lawrence will remain the administrative and scientific headquarters for the company.
That means the company likely will be adding scientific and technical positions that will work to further refine the small particle technology and provide assistance to CritiTech’s pharmaceutical partners.
But CritiTech leaders also admit that this is about the point other promising technology and bioscience startups have left Lawrence for more traditional high-tech havens. Campbell said that’s not what CritiTech is hoping to do.
“Nobody can predict the future, but typically a company on our path would attract interest from a lot of buyers,” Campbell said. “But we want to make every effort to stay in Lawrence, and if the company is successful enough we would like to remain independent.”
McClorey said he thinks the area’s economic development community will be watching with interest.
“I think what we’re in a position to show here is that Lawrence can be about more than just discovering good, new technology,” McClorey said. “In the past, Lawrence and KU researchers have been very good at coming up with new ideas and innovations, but there is another phase to show that you can take that and build a sustainable business. That is what I think we can help prove here.”