Sun Sentinel: Ocean Ridge Biosciences expands to 5,400-square foot facility


Ocean Ridge Biosciences is a survivor in South Florida's fledgling biotech industry.
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Submitted by oceanrid on Wed Dec 28, 2016 1:01 PM


Electronic Sun Sentinel: Gene analysis lab moves to Deerfield Beach


Gene analysis lab moves to Deerfield Beach

Ocean Ridge Biosciences provides gene-based lab analysis of blood and tissue samples for the development of new drugs and diagnostic tests.

  By Marcia Heroux Pounds ~ Contact Reporter
DECEMBER 2, 2016, 1:16AM


Ocean Ridge Biosciences is a survivor in South Florida's fledgling biotech industry.

In the past decade, Ocean Ridge has worked with more than 200 academic labs and companies, providing gene-based lab analysis of blood and tissue samples for the development of new drugs and diagnostic tests.

Now, it has expanded, moving from a 1,875-square-foot site in Palm Beach Gardens to a new 5,400-square-foot contract research lab in Deerfield Beach.

But the road hasn't been easy.

Ocean Ridge founder and scientist David Willoughby grew up in South Florida, left to pursue his studies and returned to the region in the early 2000s, as Scripps Florida was getting ready to open its research institute in Jupiter. There was a promise of a burgeoning biotech sector in South Florida, and he wanted to be a part of it.

With the help of A. Donny Strosberg, Scripps Florida scientist and professor of infectology, Willoughby started Ocean Ridge. Then in 2012, Strosberg died of a heart attack at age 67.

His widow, Eliane Strosberg, remains a partner in Ocean Ridge. "[David] was one of Donny's favorites," said Strosberg, who said her husband was an investor in numerous startups all over the world.

Strosberg initially kept the investment in Ocean Ridge for sentimental reasons, she said, but in the past few years, the research lab "really seems to be taking off in a very spectacular and grand way. I'm beginning to think this is going to be one of the very best investments."

She said Willoughby has been persistent in pursuing his business ideas and is "a very prudent man. He doesn't spend money he doesn't have."

Willoughby, 50, was inspired to study science by his Fort Lauderdale high school teacher. He left the region, eventually doing post-doctoral studies in molecular biology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and what is now the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

From Strosberg, Willoughby learned about running the lab as a business. For example, Willoughby learned to send out invoices for his work immediately, so payments would help cover expenses. As a result, Ocean Ridge has been profitable since 2010, and annual revenues have risen 10 percent or more each year, Willoughby said.

Willoughby said while he originally was reliant on two to three customers, he now works to diversify his customer base.

Today, the seven-employee Ocean Ridge Biosciences does most of its work for customers outside the state or country. That's one reason Willoughby decided it was time to move to Deerfield Beach, which is a more affordable location, he said.

Claes Wahlestedt, director of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation at University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, said he has worked with Willoughby for years, since his days as professor of neuroscience for Scripps Florida in 2004. He continued using Ocean Ridge's services in his work at UM, where he moved in 2011.

"He's very good at what he does," Wahlestedt said. "What he offers is a soup-to-nuts solution. When you get results from him, it's very detailed and very accurate."

The lab's work plays a role in "precision medicine," tailoring medical treatment to individuals, Wahlestedt said.

"Every cancer is different. Every diabetic is a little different. In traditional medicine, we've dished out the same treatment," he said. "It's the dream of the future that you can go to your doctor and get the perfect drug just for you, with no side effects."

For Constellation Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass., Ocean Ridge provides services to help identify changes in chromosomes that occur during cancer. "They're developing compounds that can block those changes," Willoughby said.

Nancy DiGiulio, vice president at Toxikon Corp., said her preclinical research company continues to be a customer of Ocean Ridge even after moving near the Boston area. She met Willoughby in Jupiter, where the company once had labs. "We would collaborate on certain studies," she said.

"He has some instrumentation that's very dedicated to early drug discovery," she said. "Ocean Ridge is providing a niche for researchers."

mpounds@sunsentinel.com or 561-243-6650

 


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