By Roberta Long November 02, 2012, When Cate Dyer considered locating her biotechnology company in Placerville, she wondered if she would be able to attract the caliber of scientifically-trained employees she would need. “You can do it,” architect Charlie Downs told her when she looked at his site on Pacific Street.
Downs should know. He grew his practice from a one-man, home-based office to a national firm, Anova Nexus. Architects and scientists, among others, are willing to work in smaller communities when they want to be able to enjoy the outdoors and have a good work-life balance.
As founder and chief executive officer of a growing business, Dyer does not have a lot of personal time. When she does, she enjoys riding horses, snowboarding and skiing, surfing and wakeboarding.
She had taken pre-med courses at Sacramento State with the idea of becoming an emergency doctor, but found her calling doing medical research at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. She could see the opportunity to reach more people and improve their quality of life.
Dyer started Stem Express in May 2010 with $10,000. She had graduated from Sacramento State University and was working for a prominent Bay area human tissue provider, Advanced Biosciences Resources. At that time, she started her first business, Executive Business Management, managing corporate building contracts.
Dyer decided to combine her natural business talent and love of medicine to start her own biomedical company. She also wanted to move back to the Sacramento region.
Dyer said that when she opened Stem Express the community was “hugely welcoming,” especially Marshall Medical Center and the County CAO’s office. Charlie Downs has been a champion all along, she said.
Stem Express is located in the Fausel Professional Building at 778 Pacific Street. The high-performance green building with a gold LEED rating put Anova Nexus on the national stage. It is a good fit for Stem Express, with room for expansion.
Dyer has nine employees and nine contractors. From their second-floor offices on the hillside, Dyer and crew have a view of Placerville’s Main Street and the pine and fir trees on the slopes of the town.
“Leading medical scientists require live cells for research, testing and product development,” said Dyer. The company provides researchers with human blood, tissue products, primary cells and the clinical specimens they need to perform their research. Hospitals and clinics are the sources.
The products are used to develop new drugs and vaccines and conduct research on regenerative tissue for people with spinal cord injuries, Improvised Explosive Device damage, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and bone and tissue diseases. Stem Express purifies the cells, tissue and blood, removing contaminants, making sure they are viable and preserving them for research. The company processes 14 types of tissue, including bone marrow, dental pulp and adipose tissue. Dyer said that fat cells, found in adipose tissue, are useful for research.
Dyer has plans for the future. She wants to coordinate clinical research with Marshall Medical Center. She wants to have a site where people can donate tissue samples. She is working on a collaboration with UC Davis for a genome project.
In May, Dyer hired Josh Wood, PhD, MBA. Wood graduated from University of Nevada, Reno, with a doctoral degree in Cell and Molecular Biology and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent, and the MBA fulfilled that part of my education,” he said.
He completed a 2-1/2 year postdoctoral fellowship at UC Davis, where his research focused on the underlying mechanisms and treatment of cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, inflammatory diseases, and wound healing.
Wood is Chief Operating Officer at Stem Express. He is in charge of the lab operations and also writes grant applications and manages programs.
He said he was attracted to Stem Express because he is interested in what Dyer is doing with regenerative medicine and the possibility of impacting so many patients’ lives. He also loves to backpack. When he and his wife were in Reno, they would go to Desolation Valley. Now that they are closer to the coast, they like the Point Reyes area.
It would seem that locating in Placerville would be an isolated move for Stem Express, but in fact the company is tightly linked in the region. Dyer hired two interns, Bruce Hammerstad and Dan Heeren, from the Sacramento State master’s program that trains students to work in the stem cell field and manage laboratories in a partnership with UC Davis. She was able to hire the interns with assistance from a jobs program administered by the County CAO’s office. The interns will become employees when their internships end.
The company that manufactures the laboratory equipment used by Stem Express, Miltenyi Biotec, has its U.S. headquarters in Auburn. Manufacturing is done on a campus in a forest outside Cologne.
The medical industry was first identified as a potential sector for economic development in the area by Robert Fountain, PhD, in the Folsom Economic Development and Industry Study, dated February 2004. The study was done through the Sacramento Regional Research Institute, a joint venture of SACTO and CSUS, with Ryan Sharp as Research Director.
In November 2004, California voters passed Proposition 71 by a margin of 59 to 41 percent.
Proposition 71 authorized $3 billion in bonds to be allocated over a period of 10 years to stem cell research and research facilities. It created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to be in charge of making grants and loans for stem cell research. UC Davis received a $20 million grant to support its $62 million Institute for Regenerative Cures on its Sacramento health system campus, which broke ground in 2008.
Stem Express is a member of the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, and Dyer is a featured speaker for the alliance. In 2008, SARTA formed MedStart, a group dedicated to organizing and expanding the region’s medical technology industry. One of the MedStart organizers is Peter Bernardoni, managing director of Wavepoint Ventures LLC, an El Dorado Hills investment business.
The Next Economy is a recent effort to replace jobs lost in the Sacramento region during the economic downtown with jobs that fit the future economy and lessen dependence on state and federal government for employment. The partners are SACTO, Metro Chamber, SARTA and Valley Vision. Charlie Downs, who was one of the leaders of the Placerville Area Convergence Team, is on the board of Valley Vision as a representative of El Dorado County. One of the seven clusters that the Next Economy participants identified for future employment in our region is Life Sciences and Health Services.
Dyer and Wood are excited that the 2012 Nobel prize for medicine went to two researchers, British John Gurdon and Japanese Shinya Yamanaka, for discovering that mature, specialized cells of the body can be reprogrammed into stem cells. Adult cells from different parts of the body can be returned to their non-specialized state and made into cells that serve a different purpose. “The field is constantly changing,” said Dyer.
Dyer invites anyone who is interested in donating tissue samples to visit the website: www.127.0.0.1/stemexpress, and click on Get Involved. “By donating, you are helping to advance medical science and save lives,” she said.
Stem Express was featured by the El Dorado County Economic Development Advisory Committee in EDAC’s quarterly “Business Showcase” presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 23.
For more information, visit the website or call 530-626-7000.