QuarryBio Aids Development of Drugs and Treatments
In an effort to revolutionize many areas of research in biology and immunology.
How does a person turn high-resolution protein analysis into saleable products and a viable business?
Eric Graben, founder and CEO of QuarryBio, has built an enterprise around the answer to this question.
Graben launched QuarryBio in Bloomington, Indiana, and operated from a space at Indiana University for about five years before he had to relocate.
He became interested in Tallahassee after his wife secured a position in the English department at Florida State University, but the move to Florida’s capital city would take nearly two years to accomplish.
“It wasn’t a slam dunk,” he said. “A bunch of things had to come together for this to happen.”
Initially, there was no wet lab space. A wet lab is a facility capable of housing biological materials, such as cells, proteins and viruses for use in experimentation and analysis. For QuarryBio, it is a crucial component.
“You can’t just move to some place where you are going to fail,” Graben said. “When inquiring about a wet lab, they told me, ‘Oh yeah, there are some green fields here if you want to build your own building.’ And that was a little out of my budget.”
He spent time exploring the region. The Gainesville area is a major incubator for biological technologies and would be a lot closer to his family, now established in Tallahassee, than Indiana.
Many facilities and companies have a relationship with the University of Florida, making the area attractive to startups looking for a place to land. The Sid Martin Incubator, a hub of biological technology innovation, was high on Graben’s list of possibilities.
That was before he met Ron Miller, executive director of the Leon County Research and Development Authority at Innovation Park, who was able to secure the lab space Graben needed to continue his work. Graben had his new home — the Collins Building at FSU.
Graben now has a courtesy appointment with FSU and collaborates on projects with the proteomics lab in the College of Medicine at FSU and the College of Biological Sciences.
That appointment made Tallahassee all the more attractive to Graben. It gave him access to world-class libraries and facilities that have figured in research and the development of services provided by QuarryBio.
About Protein Analysis
For those without advanced science degrees, it might be difficult to see a use for a deeper understanding of the structural composition of a specific protein, but these infinitesimal components are responsible for guiding our biological processes, from breathing and digesting foods to using muscles or fighting off a virus. Adaptor proteins comprise the receptors on T cells, a vital component of the immune system, responsible for fighting off infections. Understanding signaling processes aids in the development of drugs and vaccines.
Graben’s niche is a highly specialized one. He works primarily with pharmaceutical companies.
“If they are developing a drug antibody, the developers want to know where specifically does that antibody bind to its target,” Graben explained. Understanding such interactions is a critical step in the development of drugs and treatments of ailments.
Graben discovered his business opportunity in the course of his research.
“It wasn’t some initial vision,” he said. “You learn as you go, right? At one point, we were trying to find a way to generate high-resolution data for protein structure and membrane-binding interactions. But when we went to some of the service providers who offered that, they wanted $50,000 per project.”
Motivated to discover an affordable way to bring high-resolution analyses to groups with limited resources, Graben began to develop his technologies, using pipets and lab space, rather than expensive services. This led Graben to Dr. Richard Vachet at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where joint research demonstrated the effectiveness of his technologies.
After proof of concept was accomplished, Graben realized that “if we can just sell all the agents in a kit, then with instruments (such as a mass spectrometer) very commonly used in biotech labs, you could have everything right there. Just follow the instructions — A, B, C, D — and you’d be able to generate high-resolution structure and binding data.”
With QuarryBio’s main product, sample proteins are run through a pipeline of algorithms buried in proprietary software to produce high-resolution results revealing subtle changes in protein structures and identifying the locations where the changes occur.
In response to the pandemic, QuarryBio placed their research and development on hold and opened its lab space, working with breweries to manufacture high-volume isopropyl alcohol for use as hand sanitizer in large facilities. Recognizing that they possessed resources and equipment capable of providing aid to the community, they jumped on the opportunity to help.
Graben’s team is now focused on expanding their biotech work to include capturing cell membrane binding interactions within living cell cultures. That effort could revolutionize many areas of research in biology and immunology.