December 19, 2011

Making Good Ideas Better

By: Larry Rulison, Business Writer

Source: Times Union

When John Willis shows off his company's pain-free glucose monitoring device for diabetes patients, it's pretty compact — about the size of a round pill box

But as his East Greenbush-based company, Ultradian Diagnostics LLC, works to get the innovative medical device to market, Willis, the company's chief executive, wants to shrink the wireless device — the Biologue — to the size, and flexibility, of a Band-Aid.

Making a complex medical device like the Biologue smaller while maintaining its accuracy would be a nearly impossible task for a small company like Ultradian, Willis said. A range of companies would have to provide expensive research, prototyping and manufacturing services that aren't typically available to early-stage companies with limited funding, such as Ultradian.

"We couldn't do that," Willis said. "It would cost a fortune."

Instead, Ultradian can tap a source for research and manufacturing that it can afford: the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

This is possible because of strategic moves that the NanoCollege has been making across upstate over the past several years. One of those is the merger of a state-supported microsystems lab in Canandaigua, outside Rochester, into the NanoCollege's operations to create what is called the Smart System Technology & Commercialization Center, or STC.

Originally launched by Rochester high-tech companies Xerox, Kodak and Corning with support from local universities, the microsystems lab specializes in making micro electromechanical systems, called MEMS.

MEMS are ubiquitous and usually include senors and optical devices in cellphones and other electronic gear such as printers and copiers as well as medical technologies. MEMS are made on wafers much the same way that the computer chips that power them are made.

The NanoCollege is using the 140,000-square-foot STC manufacturing center to develop MEMS. Companies can do cutting-edge research in Albany and then go to Canandaigua to make prototypes of their devices in a manufacturing clean room that is currently being upgraded and expanded with more sophisticated equipment. The collaboration with the NanoCollege has also attracted new companies to STC, including Moser Baer Technologies, which is building a $29 million pilot production line for organic light-emitting diodes, the first of its kind in the world.

The Rochester facility is not the only one that the NanoCollege has established upstate. Facilities in Syracuse and outside Utica are also being built and are expected to help create thousands of jobs in spin-off activity from Albany NanoTech, the NanoCollege's $12 billion campus in Albany.

Ultradian is the first company in the Capital Region to tap into the NanoCollege's new Albany-to-Rochester manufacturing program, and interest in the Rochester facility by early-stage technology companies has also increased since the partnership was formed just over a year ago.

"This has opened so many more doors and avenues," said STC Director Paul Tolley, who calls the NanoCollege program a "one-stop shop" for small companies — like Ultradian — that work with MEMS.

Alain Kaloyeros, the chief executive officer of the NanoCollege, also notes that the capabilities offered in research and prototyping to New York companies through this program are not only cost effective, but superior to R&D programs offered even in the private sector at a higher cost.

For a company like Ultradian, the hardest thing to do is to bridge the "valley of death" that many tech companies fall into on their way to commercialization. Kaloyeros says the Canandaigua lab will help companies in the MEMS sector survive — and thrive.

"It's going to be the key to their success," Kaloyeros said.

The NanoCollege has already helped Ultradian make great strides after it recently completed a human pilot study at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.

The device's sensor that measures glucose was shrunk, allowing Ultradian to get the device closer to the size and flexibility it is aiming for. In the Upstate Medical study, patients wore the device for just a few hours. More extended studies are planned before Food and Drug Administration approval is sought as the device gets even smaller. The goal is to make a glucose minitor that can be worn for says without recalibration and without pain.

"This is a major milestone on Ultradian's path toward commercialization," Willis said.

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