It’s an exciting time to be part of the biotech industry.
From the mapping of the human genome to personalized medicine and the verge of new cures, science is taking the industry in dramatically new directions.
Rockland Immunochemicals Inc. in Limerick Township, Montgomery County, is part of the foundations in that research. It develops antibodies, substrates and other chemicals for biotech research and testing.
This year, Rockland was nominated by the Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce as a best big business in the region. It didn’t win, but President and CEO James Fendrick said it was nice to be recognized as a significant contributor to the local economy.
“I like to think we’re well-respected within our industry, but being recognized in the community is a testament to our people,” Fendrick said.
Fendrick spoke with Business Weekly about his company and the part it plays in medical research.
Business Weekly: What are immunochemicals, and why are they
important in medicine?
James Fendrick: These are tools in the lifescience research market. If they’re looking at cancer or diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, they’d use these. Our products are in a category called lifescience research tools. We make antibodies or assays or substrates, then we sell them to research companies, and they incorporate them into their research.
BW: What are Rockland’s largest products and areas of research right now? Why are they growing?
JF: We make more than 12,000 reagents. If you were to segment our business, No. 1 would be antibodies, No. 2 would be services and No. 3 would be buffers and substrates. The reason it’s growing is there are three legs to our industry. The first is
government-funded research, such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. The second would be biopharmaceutical research, and then there’s venture capitalists. So if they invest in a biotech company, they then need to finance
that research. There’s also been an upswing in cancer research, such as immunooncology. That’s directly related to personalized medicine research. Twenty years ago, there was the human genome project, and scientists mapped those 26,000 genes, and then started asking, well, what can we do with this information? That’s where they started looking at how turning on and off genes can produce medicines and cures for diseases. You can use this process to detect the cancer, then use it to develop specific drugs that will attack the cancer. So in the last five years, you’ve seen
the explosion in personalized medicine.
BW: In April, you reached a deal to be a distributor of UKbased Binding Site’s test kits. Why is this deal important, and what does it mean for Rockland’s business?
JF: These are test kits to perform research, so they look at proteins. We’re licensed to distribute it for them. If you’re doing veterinary research, these allow you to identify proteins and create data, then make decisions on what to do next. That’s within our marketplace. The veterinary market is huge. We receive Small Business Innovation Research grants. The government will send out requests for proposals saying these are the diseases they’re interested in finding cures for, such as Lyme disease. That has
implications for not just humans, but also animals. We recently won a grant to research sicklecell disease to develop an assay or test.
BW: What would you say is the most important development in recent years in the biotech industry, and how will it change medicine?
JF: I would say immunooncology. The traditional methods are cut, burn and poison, or rather surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. But the personalized medicine really takes treatments in a whole new direction. There’s some really wonderful results, and we’re still at its infancy. We’re only five years in with treating patients.
BW: Earlier this year, the Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce nominated Rockland as a best large company in the region. What does that say about the work you’re doing and the company’s business model?
JF: That made me proud and I laughed a little. I don’t think of us as a “big” company. I like to think we’re well-respected within our industry, but being recognized in the community is a testament to
our people. We work with Montgomery County Community College and a number of high schools. It was never mandated by me or our leadership. It’s just our people and their connections. It made me proud of what we’re doing as an organization.
BW: Where do you see the company in five years?
JF: Our goal is to be a leader in our industry. The technology moves quickly. In five years, we want to be part of the conversation and be relevant in the lifescience
industry. That’s all part of our relationships. We have great relationships with the National Science Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. We want to be a great place to work. We want bright people to work at Rockland, and that means we need to be engaged in the community.
-Interview By Jim T. Ryan, Reading Eagle correspondent