By Barrett Baker
Sanyal Biotechnology was founded in 2015 by Dr. Rebecca Caffrey and Dr. Arun J. Sanyal who, over the last decade in his lab at VCU, created a proprietary isogenic (having the same or closely related genetic constitution) strain of mice to facilitate his research into non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and diabetes. In layman’s terms, this means Dr. Sanyal “built a better mouse” for testing various compounds to cure different types of liver diseases in people who drink little or no alcohol, as well as other types of liver diseases.
“Dr. Sanyal is the most important person in the NASH field today,” says Jonathon Marioneaux, director of facilities and operations for Sanyal Biotechnology. “He is to the field of liver disease and diabetes research what David Beckham is to the game of soccer, and I’m not overexaggerating that because he founded the company.”
Dr. Sanyal, who is president, chairman and chief medical officer for Sanyal Biotechnology, is the former chair of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at VCU, as well the executive director, education core, for the Clinical Center for Translational Research at VCU. He has served as chair of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) NASH Research Network and is the current chair of the Liver Study Section at NIH. He was a founding member of the American Board of Internal Medicine committee for Advanced Hepatology, and served as Digestive Disease Week (DDW) chair for liver programming and on the World Health Organization (WHO) advisory committee for viral hepatitis.
Sanyal Biotechnology was originally to be located in Chesterfield (near Richmond) after Dr. Sanyal partnered with Dr. Rebecca Caffrey, the company’s CEO, who spun the business out of VCU through their Innovation Gateway (tech transfer) where she was entrepreneur in residence. The VCU spinout was one of a handful of university startups to be named University Startup of the Year in a national competition in 2016. Fortunately for Virginia Beach, there were two things that lured the company away from Richmond and into Coastal Virginia. “The Virginia Beach Economic Development department recruited us to come here,” says Marioneaux. “Virginia Beach is building a Bio Accelerator, and we were the first company they recruited to get it going. We’ve also helped them recruit other companies to come here including OWL Genomics from Spain. The other thing that brought us here is we are now using Eastern Virginia Medical School’s vivarium. EVMS has some top-notch researchers in the field of diabetes, and the faculty and staff in EVMS’ Comparative Medicine department have been wonderful to work with. So, those were the two things that led us to Hampton Roads, and we have not looked back.”
Leading the way for others to follow, Sanyal Biotechnology is a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that serves the needs of clients looking for a physiological relevant model for their preclinical research into liver disease. The company develops customized studies to screen client compounds and provides expert interpretation of the data collected, as well as a variety of other services that are available based on their clients’ needs. Their primary customers are pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
As with any startup, the biggest struggle was getting the initial funding together. The company has done some fundraising but is happy with the direction they are currently taking. “We’re still seeking a limited amount of working capital to support growth of our operations and are in a strong position to attract funding since we already achieved profitability in Q1 of 2017,” says Marioneaux. “It’s been a serious incentive to just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Bio At The Beach
VaBeachBio is an initiative developed by the Virginia Beach Economic Development office to bring the world’s leading innovators in healthcare, biotechnology, pharmaceutical development and healthcare delivery systems to Virginia Beach. They have partnered with Tidewater Community College to create a Bio Accelerator at the Regional Health Professions Center to provide specialized equipment and laboratory facilities until a permanent park can be built in the Princess Anne Commons area, right next to Sentara Princess Anne.