NM biotech industry gaining momentum

New Mexico biotech startup Viome Inc. is barely a year old, but it’s already raised $15 million in venture investment and employs 54 people in New Mexico and other states.

The company launched in October 2016 to do personalized microbiome testing to build individual health regimes that can help prevent chronic disease. It uses advanced analytics technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

It now operates a 21,000-square-foot lab in Los Alamos for clinical testing and product development, and it introduced its first product for customers last spring, Momo Vuyisich, Viome’s chief science officer, said during the Bioscience and Tech Knowledge Fair and Expo on Wednesday at the University of New Mexico.

“We’ve been very successful,” Vuyisich said in a keynote presentation. “It’s like one in a thousand biotech startup companies that achieve this much in so little time.”

The New Mexico Biotechnology Association, which organized the conference, touted Viome’s success as an example of the state’s potential for building a thriving life sciences industry. The association is one of the key drivers behind New Mexico’s Growbio initiative, which began in December to unite business leaders, government officials and economic development professionals in promoting biotechnology as a force for the local economy.

About 200 people registered to participate, association Executive Director Greg Byrnes said.

“We’re trying to expose more people to the biosciences and all the different technologies being developed or commercialized in New Mexico,” Byrnes said. “We have scientists, engineers, businesspeople, technology transfer professionals and others from across the state presenting at the conference.”

That includes representatives from the state’s research universities and national labs, which provide a steady stream of new technology that investors and entrepreneurs are working to take to market.

Dr. Richard Larson, executive vice chancellor at UNM Health Sciences Center, said the state’s research institutions provide rich fodder for industry. UNM alone has pumped about $1.5 billion into life sciences research in the past decade.

“That includes drug development, cancer therapies, molecular imaging, new medical devices, diagnostics, software development, genetics and more,” he said. “New Mexico has companies operating in all those areas, and the industry continues to grow.”

New Mexico Tech in Socorro, which has traditionally focused on mining and engineering, also has bustling research  programs underway. That includes a biotechnology doctoral program that began two years ago.

At Wednesday’s conference, Tech researchers showed three new life science inventions now under development: a topical cream to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria in skin infections, a method for using ultrasound to guide cancer drugs to targeted zones in the body and a robotics-based tool to train and evaluate orthopedic surgeons’ surgical skills.

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