Most great scientific ideas are born in a lab. Whether they are part of a university research project or simply just a new idea or concept stirring around in a scientist’s brain, many brilliant, life-changing ideas are created in scientific laboratories. But unfortunately, most of these ideas never get to the next stage of development, and certainly not into the marketplace.
“Innovation is the implementation of something new and beneficial, making it available in the marketplace,” says Chris Salm, co-founder of Denmark, Wisconsin-based Salm Partners LLC, and CEO and co-founder of Ab E Discovery, a full-service commercialization resource company. “If you don’t invest in discovery, you can’t get innovation.”
On a constant quest for innovation, Salm’s company, Ab E Discovery, is trying to do its part by “investing” in discovery. The company’s mission is to “commercialize entrepreneurial science.”
What started out as a scientific discovery in the labs of the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison by the late Mark Cook, Ph.D., ultimately led to the creation of Ab E Discovery and furthermore, to the commercialization of Cook’s original scientific discovery.
Starting from scratch
One of Cook’s many university research projects involved the discovery of a protein in chicken eggs that he later found could be blended with animal feed and used as an antibiotic replacement. The technology, when fully developed, will focus on a hen’s natural ability to pass antibodies to their offspring through eggs. Adding egg proteins to the diets of young birds passes on antibodies that can improve gut health. A healthy gut can decrease susceptibility to certain pathogens, and in turn potentially reduce the need for antibiotics.
Following years of in-lab research and development, Cook offered his discovery to animal health companies, but at that time there were no takers. “The big companies didn’t want to take the time and energy to overcome the necessary hurdles to make the product commercially viable,” Salm says. “So, Mark brought the idea to me.”
In 2015, Cook shared his discovery with Salm and the two, along with post-doctorate Jordan Sand, Ph.D., founded Ab E Discovery to help commercialize the technology and bring it to market.
After further developing the technology, the product, known then as Cosabody, attracted the attention of Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly and Co. In early 2018, Elanco signed a licensing agreement with Ab E Discovery.
“Elanco’s combination of industry expertise and dedication to innovation present the perfect combination for elevating this technology to its full potential,” Salm said at the time the partnership was announced. “A true entrepreneurial scientist, we know Mark [Cook] would have been thrilled at how far his discovery has come in its path to commercialization.”
The technology, in late-stage development, has an initial focus on poultry, however, Elanco has the exclusive global rights for all animalspecies.
Now as the two companies work to get the product into the marketplace, Ab E Discovery is looking for more avenues of scientific innovation in which to invest.
“We recognized that there’s a huge gap between what happens in the university research lab and what happens in commercial reality,” Salm explains. “Therefore, instead of being a single technology company, we are a company that basically understands the things that have to happen in order to make the university lab discoveries commercially viable. We set up our business to commercialize entrepreneurial science by dealing with those functional areas like regulatory, like manufacturing process design, like establishing the business metrics. We created our company to help get ideas into the marketplace.”
Since most scientists don’t specialize in business, scientific discoveries rely heavily on other companies to invest in the ideas and to move them into the marketplace itself. Salm says 70 percent of discoveries go to startups and smaller companies, because larger companies don’t want to invest time and money until ideas are further developed. And yet still, most ideas never make it past development, Salm says.
“The vast majority of technologies don’t find a home. Big companies have learned not to invest early on. They say, ‘Let’s let the startups do the early work and then we’ll buy them out.’ So without a company behind them to back up the idea, it’s dependent upon the scientists to figure out how to start a company to get their technology to market,” says Eric Salm, chief operating officer and president of Ab E Discovery, and Chris Salm’s son. “If you find a professor of animal science and tell them to start a company – figure out regulatory, run the accounting function, figure out product design and testing – it’s putting too high of an expectation on the professors and post docs. You’re telling them, you have this phenomenal scientific background and these gifts and talents in science and discovery, now pull yourself out of that and figure out how to commercialize that technology. Their strengths are in science and technology – not getting a product to market.”
Ab E Discovery is working to bridge the gap that exists between science and business.
“We have three priorities as a business. First, the technology we licensed to Elanco has to get launched into the marketplace. Next, we are building a manufacturing plant, which will be completed in October. We’ll begin producing product at the plant, starting with the Elanco product, as well as doing contract manufacturing in functional feed ingredients,” Eric Salm explains. “The third priority for our business is to figure out the different ways we can support entrepreneurial scientists, and drive breakthrough technologies to help them get commercialized. What we’ve done to date is just one way to get a discovery to market.”
Some other options for the company include partnering with industry to scout out new technologies. Salm also says Ab E Discovery could be a commercialization agent for scientists and entrepreneurs that have already made discoveries to help them find the best homes for those technologies. Another idea is to serve as an academy for development. In this function, Ab E Discovery would bring in both the new technologies and the scientists and help them form their own startups to further develop their products and ideas.
“There are different routes we can take to help bring new technologies to the marketplace,” Eric Salm says. “We’re still trying to figure out the best way to do it.”
For now, the company plans to stick to developing ideas and discoveries in the area of animal agriculture. “That’s where our body of knowledge sits. We are focused on animal health and nutrition and gut health within those areas,” Salm says. While the company name (Ab representing “antibodies” and E representing “eggs”) suggests that the focus will always be on poultry, Salm says they are open to working with all proteins and animals.
In order to further develop the Elanco product, Ab E Discovery realized it needed to build its own manufacturing facility. “It’s hard to find a place to produce 5,000 lbs. of product. You can do 50 lbs. of product in a lab and 50,000 lbs. in a large production plant, but we couldn’t find anywhere to produce a mid-range amount,” Eric Salm explains. So, at the end of 2016, the plan to build the Ab E Manufacturing plant was born. “A year-and-a-half in to the creation of our company and we soon realized we couldn’t find anywhere to produce our product – even through contract manufacturing.”
The 25,000-sq.-ft. facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin, set to be complete in late October, will start with the production of the Elanco product in early 2019. It will be equipped with egg washers, breakers and separators and in-line pasteurization, as well as dry encapsulation, blending and packaging equipment. “In the future when we work with other products we’ll probably have to develop new upstream processes,” Eric Salm explains. The plant’s design is flexible and will be able to be adjusted in the future to accommodate new projects and products.
Following production, the next stage of the process will be experimentation. “You can only take it so far in a lab – until you get it out there, you don’t know how it’s going to work,” Eric Salm says.
Without a company behind them to back up the idea, it's dependent upon the scientists to figure out how to start a company to get their technology to market. — Eric Salm, chief operating officer and president of Ab E Discovery
The Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison has a poultry research lab – complete with in-house scientists and veterinarians – that is ideal for smaller scale research trials. “We have a great relationship with UW-Madison,” Salm explains. “We have established a facilities usage agreement to use their poultry research lab.” And, as Ab E Discovery learns of new technologies that need development, partnerships with other universities around the country will be formed, Salm says.
“We are very early in the life of our company,” he adds. “In the next year, we hope to have another customer or two on board with other technologies to help commercialize.
“There will be a tremendous amount of benefit to discovering that next thing that changes the world…but you can’t go into a conversation about discovery asking, ‘What am I going to get as a return for my investment?’ Your objective can’t be to get a benefit for yourself,” Salm explains. “We’re here to use our gifts and talents and knowledge and experience to help serve others and we do that without a preconceived notion about what we’re going to get in return.”