Published October 19, 2016
Led by an alumnus. Co-founded by professors. Nurtured by a campus support system that helps propel university spinoffs to success.
The story of Abcombi Biosciences — Buffalo’s only finalist in this year’s 43North business competition — shows how UB is advancing Western New York’s economy by providing student and faculty entrepreneurs with a growing network of resources designed to accelerate the growth of UB startups.
Since its founding in 2015, the company has taken advantage of a bevy of UB opportunities, such as seed funding, research partnerships with faculty and university-sponsored networking events — including one that helped attract a former Merck executive to Abcombi’s advisory team.
“I can’t envision that we would have gotten to where we are without the UB community rallying behind us as they did. The individual attention we have gotten has just been incredible,” says Abcombi CEO Charles Jones, who co-founded Abcombi while finishing his PhD at UB. His co-founders include Associate Professor Blaine Pfeifer, who served as Jones’ PhD adviser in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“The support systems here are great,” Jones says. “The people here at UB made so many important connections for us. We didn’t have to ask for help — they would reach out to us with useful information, to tell us when new opportunities came up.”
Abcombi is developing a portfolio of products for fighting infectious disease around the world.
The invitation to compete for 43North’s $1 million grand prize this month is just the latest chapter in Abcombi’s rise.
Earlier this year, the company won a first-place prize in the New York Business Plan Competition and was accepted to open a satellite office in Johnson & Johnson’s prestigious biomedical research incubator in Toronto. Abcombi recently completed preclinical trials for a vaccine for pneumonia and is wrapping up preclinical trials for a treatment targeting drug-resistant strains of the flu. Both technologies were developed at UB.
“For the team at UB, what has been so exciting about the company’s success is that we have been privileged to see its progression from the beginning,” says Kim Grant, business development executive for UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. “Abcombi was an idea that was organically grown out of UB, cultivated by our faculty and students in our facilities, and then ‘adopted’ by one of our successful alumni — a former Merck executive who now serves as an adviser to Abcombi.”
An expanded support system for entrepreneurs
In recent years, UB has placed an increasing emphasis on advancing faculty and student startups.
“Abcombi’s spin out from UB is exactly the kind of commercial activity we can catalyze as a leading research university,” says Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development. “UB is enhancing the support structure to enable faculty, staff and students to commercialize more of their incredible innovations. These UB spin-outs will support the growth of the region’s economy while bringing to market leading-edge products and services.”
Abcombi has benefited from this focus on entrepreneurship and commercialization, including through the following opportunities:
“The support we’ve received from UB and the Buffalo community has just been overwhelming,” says Pfeifer, the engineering faculty member who co-founded Abcombi. “What I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not enough for a company to have great research results. You need that, for sure, but you also need expertise and connections in the business world, and the team at UB has helped us with that at every step of the way.”