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March 24, 2010 > Business Profile: From NASA to the Tri-Cities

Business Profile: From NASA to the Tri-Cities

By Steve Grant

There is an array of high-tech in the Tri-City area, companies not just serving the computer industry but utilizing computer technology, combining it with other innovations to develop products that fill needs in other areas of people's lives.

Abaxis is such a company whose products were nascent in the late 1980s as a project at NASA. The latter needed a compact device that could perform multiple biochemical tests from a single drop of blood. This project was eventually canceled but the founders of Abaxis saw its commercial potential and purchased exclusive patent rights from NASA's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Shortly after Abaxis was founded, the conceptual design for the company's first medical device was completed. In 1995, a commercial blood chemistry analyzer, the Piccolo(r) system was introduced. In that same year, a similar device for the Veterinary market, the Vetscan(r) system was added as a product.

These devices can perform multiple biochemical tests from as little as two drops of blood in a matter of minutes. A doctor or veterinarian can present results to their patient or client while they wait in the office; no need to wait several days for results. These "instant" results have saved many lives.

The heart of Abaxis technology is not just computer technology, but bio-chemistry too. The Abaxis-developed Orbos(r) rotor contains beads of chemical reagents for each test. Several different rotor disks available, each capable of performing as many as 12 bio-chemical tests from as little as two drops of blood, serum or plasma.

Abaxis develops and manufactures all of their products in certified facilities on Whipple Road, Union City. Of approximately 340 employees world-wide, the majority are based in Union City. The company has been so successful, it has grown consistently and there are plans for further expansion.

"We will be hiring 12 more people in customer service and our technical service groups and field sales will go from 45 to 60 employees. As far as operations in the medical end of the business, I would expect they will be doing some hiring to keep up with demand," said Martin Mulroy, VP of Sales and Marketing for the North American Animal Health Business division. These are manufacturing, chemistry, or operations-type positions.

To create quality products, a great deal of research is necessary. To help with that research, Abaxis donates systems and support to endangered species-research projects throughout the world. For instance, Abaxis has helped scientists who work at elephant sanctuaries, study orangutans in Borneo, giant tortoises in the Galapagos and monitor lizards in Australia. By providing devices such as VetScan(r) VS2, scientists in the field can take blood samples and determine the overall health of a herd or family unit.

Though not required to do so, Abaxis uses the same stringent manufacturing processes for its FDA-approved human-line of products to produce its animal-line of products.

"What I also enjoy about working here is that all the requirements we have, in terms of regulatory requirements, for production of medical devices and medical reagents, you will also find for animal-health products. One factory, one quality group, one operations group and they build medical products and veterinary products with the same stringent quality requirements, even though we don't need to," said Mulroy.

Abaxis' line of medical products can be found in urgent-care clinics, oncology treatment clinics, hospital laboratories, cruise ship infirmaries and military installations such as field hospitals, naval vessels and mobile care units. The veterinary line of products is often found in places such as animal hospitals and clinics, universities, biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies and animal emergency clinics. Essentially, wherever quick blood-work is needed.

For more information on Abaxis, visit www.Abaxis.com.

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