GWC's High-tech Products Are So Versatile That Marketing Them Is Startup's Top Challenge

Wisconsin State Journal

Sunday, July 24, 2005
Judy Newman

Gold may lead a Madison biotech startup company to eventual riches. GWC Technologies is developing instruments that can test potential drug candidates, look for food contamination and identify anthrax, said Tim Burland, president and chief executive officer.

The company also has equipment that can examine metal coatings and lubricant films for quality control, for example, for the computer industry. "Our biggest challenge is that the technology is very, very versatile," Burland said.

Gold dots are the key that allows GWC's SPRimager to analyze molecules, from proteins to toxins, he said.

"This is where life really happens - molecules interacting with each other. We can monitor them without disturbing them," said Burland.

Named after founders Michael Green, Stephen Weibel and Robert Corn, GWC was established in 2000 and already is collaborating with companies in Dane County and in Italy for different uses of its instruments.

Thermo Electron, Fitchburg, plans to start selling a GWC instrument along with one of its own products, in the next few days.

"We've been working with them for a while," said Chris Petty, Thermo Electron's director of spectroscopy. "First, they have great science. And the fact that they're very local, they're people with a good reputation and people we already know ... that's great."

Thermo Electron - formerly Nicolet Instruments - plans to sell the instruments worldwide, he said, and expects many major pharmaceutical companies will buy them for their research labs.
"Understanding how proteins behave is incredibly important in finding how drugs might work in the body to help address those diseases," Petty said.

GWC signed an agreement last month with Neotron, a company in Modena, Italy, that wants to use the SPRimager (surface plasmon resonance) to develop new types of food tests for the European market.

"It validates the technology and shows its versatility," Burland said. The joint effort may devise technology that will identify genetically modified foods as well as food contaminants. "We can use the same instrument for both," he said.

The technology is based on research by former UW-Madison chemistry professor Robert Corn. In an e-mail interview, he said he sees the SPRimager as a tool for researchers "who are interested in learning how biological systems operate, communicate and respond at the molecular level."

The instrument also has long-term potential as a diagnostic and detection tool, he said, "such as screening environmental samples for biological agents such as toxins, bacteria and viruses."

Corn, also a co-founder of another Madison biotech, GenTel BioSurfaces, is now a chemistry professor at the University of California- Irvine. He said he left UW-Madison a year ago after 19 years here because he received "an excellent offer" from the Irvine campus "with regards to new funding, salary and new state-of-the-art laboratories that Wisconsin did not match."

GWC, which will remain in Madison, has five employees and space in the basement of the MGE Innovation Center to manufacture its instruments. With annual revenues of about $500,000, the company is breaking even, Burland said. But, he added, it's time to put more effort into marketing the company's products. So GWC is trying to raise about $500,000 in angel financing.

The five-year goal: $20 million a year in sales and about 40 employees, Burland said.

"I hope it will help researchers solve a lot of problems out there - the health of an aging nation, feeding a growing population, (maintaining) the environment," he said.

More information:

GWC Technologies
505 S. Rosa Road
Madison, WI 53719, USA
Tel: 608.441.2720