Lab space at center of new Medical District partnership


Researchers and entrepreneurs in the biosciences and technology industry will have greater resources thanks to a new public-private partnership between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis Bioworks Foundation and TriMetis Life Sciences.

The partnership involves operating a lab space in the UT-Baptist Research Park in the Medical District to further the research, discovery, entrepreneurship and commercialization in biosciences and technology at the university. UTHSC recently leased the 26,000-square-foot TriMetis Laboratory facility at 20 South Dudley Street and is carving out space to TriMetis for its current and future business.

TriMetis is a contract lab, or pre-clinical contract research organization, that that works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies, offering lab services, biospecimen procurement, and consulting.

“This facility is one of the only in Tennessee like it, where you can conduct that kind of high-level research. The process flows are state-of-the-art. The features within and the numbers and types of rooms are all very different than what you would see in a standard lab,” said TriMetis president and CEO Phil Cestaro.

“As far as entrepreneurial activities, it provides a clearer pathway or communication channel to make this a possibility if you’re a researcher at UTHSC.”

The facility has several advantages for UTHSC, according to the school’s senior associate vice chancellor Dr. Steven Youngentob.

“One is that it’s obviously a brand new, large facility that can accommodate the needs of the UTHSC researchers for some time to come,” said Youngentob. “It’s also a GLP [Good Laboratory Practice]-level facility, ideal for pre-clinical trial work. What that means is that, along with providing our investigators with state-of-the-art vivarium capabilities for their normally funded NIH, NSF, [National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation] canopy-type research, the facility is also ideally suited for the kind of drug discovery and development going on on the campus, mostly spearheaded by people in the College of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy.”

At the heart of the partnership are f Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks, who focus is on building research through entrepreneurial endeavors, and Cestaro, whose focus is on building research through business development in the private sector.

Cestaro, as associate vice chancellor of research and business development, will focus on the development of external research opportunities with pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies that could partner with UTHSC.

“The long-term vision for this is that we’re actively looking for research that would fit UT," said Cestaro. “This becomes a much tighter partnership because we’re trying to figure out how to grow businesses that utilize the services of TriMetis and the expertise of the university.”

Cestaro will also assist the University of Tennessee Research Foundation with the management of the statewide Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee.

Bares will work to help build out the pathway to entrepreneurship, with a focus on both capitalizing on existing research by professors and students and setting a foundation for future research and discovery. He plans to use targeted programming to expand access and expose UTHSC faculty to experienced educators and researchers who have successfully translated discoveries in academia to commercial ventures.

Bioworks also supplies the new partnership with a full conference center, including conference meeting rooms and a 250-seat auditorium at its building at 20 South Dudley Street, as well as wet lab research laboratory space.

“The vivarium is then well poised to connect to the research buildings to provide resources to there as well,” said Youngentob.

When the lease on the lab space expires near the end of next year, UTHSC can buy the facility and all land associated with it.

The school took possession of the facility in September, and the first animal researchers are in transition. The lab opened in 2014.

“There’s a capability for doing small-animal work, typical rodent studies, and also capability for doing large-animal work,” said Youngentob, who estimates room for 10,000 to 12,000 small cages for studies. “On the entrepreneurship side, it provides an ideal setting for doing pre-clinical trials.”

UTHSC’s hopes for the future include being able to build a bioresearch park on the land surrounding the lab.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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