Real-world events sometimes catalyze research activity in the blink of an eye.
In 1996, biomedical engineer M. Allen Northrup partnered with Thomas L. Gutshall and Kurt Petersen to found Cepheid, a company they hoped would become the reference standard for DNA analysis. Northrup soon became chief technology officer and vice-president of research, and the company’s first product was released in 2000: the SmartCycler, a device that improved upon existing fast-cycling techniques for preparing DNA samples. Despite such innovation, though, the company’s focus on life sciences research did not attract much attention … particularly of a financial nature.
Then terrorists struck on 9/11, and suddenly everything changed.
One week later, as letters laced with anthrax spores were mailed to media outlets and two U.S. senators, the related threat of bioterrorism abruptly loomed large. Cepheid, one of very few companies able to produce accurate biodetection units, was asked by federal agencies and the U.S. Army to develop a way to test for plague, botulism and anthrax. In December 2002, Cepheid became part of a consortium tasked to develop and install biodetection threat systems at U.S. Postal Service mail-sorting facilities. Within three years, 700 mail-cancellation machines had been equipped with this technology, which sampled the air for anthrax spores and provided results every one to two hours.
Fluigent team is very pleased to welcome on board Dr. Norhthrup. Allen Northup will bring his extensive knowledge in microfluidics and engineering as member of Fluigent scientific advisory board and support Fluigent in always developping the best products for R&D laboratories and industrials.
THE BUSINESS: Microfluidic Systems Inc. makes equipment used by the Department of Homeland Security to detect biological attacks. Its automated equipment detects specific biological samples in the air or in clinical samples, typically pathogens like bacteria and viruses such as the human papilloma virus, and H1N1 and other forms of the influenza virus.
CUSTOMERS: In addition to Homeland Security, Microfluidic Systems’ customers include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense and the Office of Health Affairs. Microfluidic Systems has also partnered with Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., a division of United Technologies Corp., and Boeing Co. for the testing of its larger detection systems.
SHORT-TERM GOAL: CEO Allen Northrup said the company is building and testing a stand-alone unit that can monitor the air for both indoor and outdoor environments. Northrup said establishing this MBAND system will allow the company to expand toward additional markets such as point-of-care detection and treatment of a disease.