Hastening diagnoses

February 12, 2012

Carolina Liquid Chemistries Corp. arrived in Piedmont Triad Research Park in late 2007 hoping to grow roots in a burgeoning biotechnology sector.

Phil Shugart, the company’s president and a native of Yadkinville, and Patti Shugart, his wife and vice president of sales and marketing, were running their company out of Brea, Calif., but had an aging family member in the Winston-Salem area they wanted to be near.

“We ended up liking Winston-Salem so much that we decided to stay and move half of our business here,” Phil Shugart said.

The company, founded in 1997, makes and distributes chemistry reagents that are used for diagnostic applications at hospitals and private laboratories worldwide.

The Shugarts said they recognized a need for high-quality, lower-cost alternative reagent sources. For example, the company said its lipid panels, which check HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, provide labs with a result that is twice as fast as some other reagents.

Since entering new wet laboratory space at the park in January 2008, the company has developed a chemistry analyzer, the BioLis 24i, which sells for $60,000. It also has opened a state-of-the-art BioLis 24i technical training center.

The analyzer has more than 3,000 users worldwide and is the fastest-growing “benchtop” chemistry analyzer in the United States because of its menu of more than 80 tests, including screenings for drug abuse. Because it requires only 31 inches of bench space, it is considered ideal for small hospitals and physician office laboratories.

The Shugarts talked recently about the progress of the company and its future. An edited version follows:

Where does the company stand with its major product development — a blood test targeting diabetes?

Phil Shugart: Our major product developments are in clinical chemistry analyzers. CLC is the exclusive U.S. distributor of the BioLis 24i and manufactures the tests for use on the instrument in our Brea facility.

The CLC720 floor model is twice as fast and sells for twice as much as the BioLis 24i. Plans are set for launching even a larger platform to meet the needs of large hospitals and reference laboratories. Scientists in both Winston-Salem and Brea are instrumental in producing the data necessary to complete the 510K pre-market clearance for these systems. Several proprietary tests are in the pipeline.

How is the company getting recognition, attention for its chemistry analyzer?

Patti Shugart: We were recognized as one of the top-five finalists for the Cook Medical Innovation award for the CLC720 chemistry analyzer.

This month, the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Scientists has asked us to sponsor educational sessions in July at their annual conference. This is such an honor to be asked, a rite reserved for the larger corporations, such as Siemens and Beckman Coulter.

We are delighted to be in a position to start to support the laboratorians that have supported us. We believe that giving back is an important value.

Where is the company’s place in the marketplace with its products? How far has it been able to push the needle in terms of societal benefit?

Patti Shugart: Our benchtop chemistry analyzer is the fastest growing nationwide.

Getting the best possible result in the quickest amount of time to aid a physician or clinician in making a treatment decision can save lives. We believe we have made significant progress with this in several areas, such as oncology, rheumatology and pain management.

Pain management is especially important because of the crisis our country is in terms of addiction and abuse of prescription pain medicine. We have an epidemic, and if a physician can get a result in minutes that is as close as possible to that produced by a reference method that might take 48 hours, the quality of patient care will improve.

When did the analyzer testing center open, how many work there and what is the capacity now for testing and the near-term goal?

Patti Shugart: The training center opened mid-2008. We have trained well more than 100 laboratory technicians on the use of our equipment. We have more than 20 people employed in the facility.

Our new space will allow us to offer weekly classes and accommodate up to six customers per week, and on a variety of equipment. We have held back hiring because we needed more space.

How has being based in Winston-Salem and the research park benefited the company in terms of testing and reputation?

Patti Shugart: The collaboration with park tenants and relationships made in the park has helped put us on a course for future growth.

We might have remained stagnant if it weren’t for the talented scientists we have met over the last three years. We have been fortunate to have found talented people on both coasts.

Given the tenuous nature of biotechnology, how does the company stand financially?

Patti Shugart: We have averaged more than 20 percent growth per year, consistently profitable and have doubled in size.

What’s on the horizon for the company?

Phil Shugart: Our goal is to build our own building in the next five years, location to be determined. We would like to stay in Winston-Salem.

Community support will be very important to this. Buy local!