Starting and running a small business is no small feat. There are limited resources, technical challenges, and questions about validity, credibility and scalability. How do you get answers? How do you get your foot in the door with investors when you may not have the facilities or expertise to prove your product really is the next big idea?
Enter the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program. At no cost to the business, this program provides small businesses access to the expertise of scientists and engineers at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories to help solve challenges. Experts at the labs have helped companies overcome barriers including scalability and growth, proof of concept and product validation tests, and design consultation and improvement.
With the support of the State of New Mexico, since 2000, the two national laboratories have provided $76.1 million in technical assistance to 3,204 businesses, enabling 10,211 jobs to be created and retained across the state’s 33 counties.
Here are two recent examples of how NMSBA and Los Alamos have impacted New Mexico businesses in the biotechnology sector:
Disrupting disease with siRNA
Located in Santa Fe, Mercury Bio (formerly Spartina Biotechnologies) is developing a drug delivery platform and process to treat human diseases at a biomolecular, genomic level. Three other companies joined Mercury Bio to understand how siRNA could treat human disease: Sayre Consulting, Mountain Vector Energy and Pajarito Cloud Computing.
Silencing RNA (siRNA) sticks to viral RNA—interrupting its behavior. Mercury Bio needed to understand where on the viral RNA strand siRNA would be most disruptive. But, running lab experiments on every disease and RNA sequence would be an extremely expensive and time consuming task. To help streamline the process, Mercury Bio reached out to NMSBA for computational modeling and was paired with Garrett Kenyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Kenyon and his team used artificial intelligence and machine learning to model the actions of siRNA in treating human diseases. The team utilized previous RNA data from a protein database for machine learning techniques pioneered at Los Alamos to develop a predictive model for how RNA folds. With this data, the team was able to evaluate where siRNA is most disruptive within the shape of each viral RNA molecule.
“Being able to access world-class scientists and the tools and facilities of national labs is a remarkable benefit to small businesses,” says Bruce McCormick, CEO of Mercury Bio.
Mercury Bio is still in the research phase as a company, but completion of this NMSBA project granted them valuable technical insight into their products. The company is in the process of obtaining investment and hiring scientists and lab technicians. They funded a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) and will continue working with Los Alamos in a Technology Readiness Initiative project.
The gut feeling of holistic supplements
Siddha Labs is an ayurvedic herbal supplements company based in Santa Fe which provides natural solutions for wellness needs ranging from immune and memory system support to tattoo aftercare.
As Siddha Labs continued to bring Eastern medical science and solutions to the Americas, owner Amaya Shiva knew she would need to gather data through a Western lens to evaluate her products. She reached out to NMSBA and was partnered with Armand Dichosa and his team from Los Alamos National Laboratory to run growth analyses of L. acidophilus, a probiotic, to validate the benefits of the herbal supplement Triphala used in the products.
Dichosa and his team demonstrated the proof of concept that microbial communities’ growth responded to Triphala. The Los Alamos team designed a novel protocol and identified an appropriate microbiome that mimics the human gut microbial community. The team revealed the microbial communities responded positively to the supplements.
Their findings allowed Siddha Labs to better understand product functionality. As a result, the company was able to secure its first private investor, which will allow them to focus and expand product development and enhance operations. The company is seeking to hire contractors to further company growth in New Mexico.
“When people hear that I’m doing research in partnership with a national lab, they listen,” says Shiva. “This is only just the beginning thanks to NMSBA.”