New Infinity Lab Offers Incubator to Biotech Startups
By Brian Hiro
When Thomas Lyle Temple began searching for lab space to house his biotech startup, he wasn’t exactly enamored with his options.
Temple toured private facilities in the region that failed to meet his expectations in myriad ways – whether the culprit was age, accumulated dust or debris. And for the privilege of occupying such a space, the going rate was a shocking $10,000 a month, or more.
What a pleasant change it was for Temple, then, when his nascent company’s head of business development told him about a new opportunity to rent room in Cal State San Marcos’ Extended Learning building. The bright and modern lab on the fourth floor marked such a sharp contrast to what he had been seeing that he accepted on the spot.
“It’s been wonderful,” Temple said. “This lab space is incredibly nice.”
Temple is the president and CEO of Grann Pharmaceuticals, a biotech that he formed with several classmates while they were still students at Whittier College. This spring, before they even had graduated, Grann moved into the Infinity Lab, a state-of-the-art research facility in the Extended Learning building. Just last week, Grann was joined in the lab by a second client: Alcheme Bio, a small startup founded by Vanessa Small, a member of the advisory council for CSUSM’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The Infinity Lab was designed as a teaching space, but partly because of the pandemic, it hasn’t been used for that purpose since the building opened four years ago. In 2020, CSUSM initiated an experiment to reimagine the lab by leasing space to cancer diagnostics company Volition, which stayed for about a year before moving on.
Now, CSUSM is doubling down on the growth of its innovation ecosystem under the direction of Scott Gross, associate vice president of industry partnerships, and Betsy Read, the founder of the university’s biotechnology program, and with the added assistance of Debora Galasso. Galasso is a 25-year veteran of the biotech industry who became a lecturer in the Master of Biotechnology: A Professional Science Master’s program in 2019 and this year was enlisted by Gross and Read to manage the expansion of the Infinity Lab.
Galasso said CSUSM is the only university in San Diego County that is dipping its toe into a venture that is typically the province of for-profit companies.
“Our goal is to demonstrate proof of concept,” Galasso said. “The space was sitting idle, so we wanted to see if we could create an environment that could benefit students. As education is our primary focus, we are not intending to make money, but to cover our costs while we develop an environment where students, faculty and staff can interact directly with entrepreneurs.”
The Infinity Lab is a molecular and cellular biology lab that features four benches (three are available to lease, one is reserved for CSUSM students and faculty), a tissue culture room for culturing cells and an impressive collection of the type of equipment any biotech startup would require. Space can be rented by the linear foot, with Grann taking up a whole bench (34 feet) and Alcheme only 7 feet. The lab can accommodate three to five companies at a time, and renewable leases are for six-month terms, as befits a place that considers itself a biotech incubator.
“The idea would be to not have companies in for over two years,” Galasso said. “By that time, they should have secured angel or venture capital funding, been purchased or their intellectual property been purchased. Within two years, you should be growing enough that you need to go somewhere else.”
Because of its university affiliation, a requirement of the Infinity Lab is that students benefit from any industry partnership. That can take multiple forms, from students being hired as interns, to companies hosting classes in the lab to tell their story, to biotech entrepreneurs speaking on campus in a casual, roundtable style.
Grann, for example, has brought aboard two CSUSM master’s students as interns for the upcoming school year, and the students will learn Grann’s process of re-expressing proteins using mRNA lipid nanoparticle technology.
Temple, a San Diego native who graduated from Cathedral Catholic High School, said the directive that Grann involve students in its operations is nothing but a win-win proposition. His company has added interns who might end up being future employees, while CSUSM students can not only tap into Grann’s collective brainpower, but also borrow expensive scientific instruments that not even the Infinity Lab possesses.
“Cal State San Marcos has been great,” Temple said. “This place couldn’t be any better.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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