“Our products, I believe, have been involved in some aspect of nearly every drug developed in the past 30 years,” Chuck Kummeth, president and CEO, Bio-Techne, declares. The statement seems extravagant, but it has the ring of truth. After all, the company boasts a 43-year history and offers more than 300,000 products.
“We’re a mile wide and an inch deep,” Kummeth continues. Maintaining 12 distinct brands, Bio-Techne has product lines that cover proteomic instrumentation, assays, antibodies, proteins, adoptive cellular therapy products, bead technology for cell aggregations, gene editing transposon technology, a liquid biopsy platform, an automated multiplex immunoassay platform, and quality control technology for the clinical market.
One of the company’s strengths is its highly bioactive proteins. “When researchers complain that experiments aren’t working, oftentimes the problem is low bioactivity,” Kummeth explains. “Although our proteins are two or three times the price of those of our competitors, the associated bioactivity is often 10 to 25 times higher.”
The company also claims a few “firsts.” Most notably, Kummeth points out, is the creation of “the entire category of commercial cytokines,” which involved the development of early-stage products such as transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1) and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), as well as interleukin-1 (IL-1). The last was developed under the guidance of past board member, Charles A. Dinarello, MD, the first to clone and fully characterize all the biological activities associated with IL-1. Bio-Techne also developed the first eight-parameter blood control for hematology labs, and a multiplex fluorescent and chromogenic in situ hybridization (ISH) platform to detect and quantify RNA biomarkers at near single-molecule sensitivity.
Another recent milestone was when Bio-Techne received Medicare reimbursement approval for its new ExoDx® Prostate IntelliScore (EPI) liquid biopsy assay for initial prostate cancer biopsies. It took effect December 1, 2019.
Now Bio-Techne is looking toward molecular pathology and cell therapy. Molecular medicine is slowly replacing traditional immunohistochemistry (IHC) in many diagnostic areas. “More than 25% of the time, however, there is no validated antibody to detect the diagnostic biomarker linked to a specific cancer,” Kummeth advises. Researchers, therefore, turn to gene expression.
“We developed probes to identify relevant genes being expressed in tissue sections on traditional IHC slides while preserving tissue morphology. Bio-Techne still supports traditional IHC workflow.
When Kummeth joined Bio-Techne six years ago, the company—based in a former Land O’Lakes factory—earned $300 million in annual revenues from 24,000 products. Under Kummeth’s leadership, Bio-Techne doubled its catalog size, launching approximately 1,500 new antibody and protein products annually. Perhaps most notably, the company expanded into instrumentation and tools for cell and gene therapies.
Simultaneously, the company has developed a portfolio of approximately 400 issued and pending patents. Bio-Techne also increased its headcount from 780 to 2,300 and expanded its global footprint with offices in Europe, China, and India. Overall growth has nearly tripled, with fiscal year 2019 revenues exceeding $714 million. The first quarter Fiscal Year 2020 conference call (for the month ending September 30, 2019) reported year-to-year quarterly growth at 13%.
Much of the company’s growth in North America is attributed to sales to biopharmaceutical companies, Kummeth said during that Q1 conference call. He ascribes part of that increase to a redesigned website and search engine optimization that facilitates complex product searches.
Noting that the company has about one million customers (still predominantly individual researchers), Kummeth adds, “No customer accounts for more than 2% of the company’s revenue.” Given such a dispersed client base, and given that single orders aren’t huge, Bio-Techne is safe from disruption if a client changes focus or experiences delays.
As Kummeth contemplates the company’s continued growth, the greatest challenge, he admits, is the company’s geographic location. Despite having offices on both coasts in the United States, Bio-Techne concentrates its manufacturing activities at the Minneapolis site. “Consequently, we continue to be challenged in finding and recruiting new staff,” Kummeth says.
Building for the next generation
For Bio-Techne, an emerging area of interest is cell therapy, especially cell therapy that incorporates chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells. “Cells, rather than synthetic drugs, as therapeutic agents are gaining a foothold in medicine, especially as second- and third-line treatments for patients who have failed traditional cancer therapies,” Kummeth asserts. “Our products are being used in many of the upcoming clinical trials in the cell therapy space.”
His goal is to develop a complete solution for autologous CAR T-cell workflow. In a typical CAR T-cell workflow, a client starts with a patient’s own cells, genetically modifies those cells, expands them, and then returns these “super cells” to the patient. The gene editing of this process is being done using technology that Bio-Techne recently acquired from a University of Minnesota spinout company, BMoGen.
To advance this work, the company is also building a $50 million factory in St. Paul for large-scale protein production for the cell and gene therapy market. The proteins will be manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines. Kummeth predicts the new facility will generate more than $140 million in revenue within five years.
Bio-Techne is a publicly traded company. “Our stock symbol is TECH,” Kummeth quips. “That shows how long we’ve been around.” Unlike many CEOs of public companies, Kummeth is focused beyond the next few quarters. To ensure that Bio-Techne thrives in the coming decades, he supports the company’s continued investment in cutting-edge research, which can instigate a chain of welcome events, with the research leading to new products and processes, which support others’ research projects, which generate journal citations, which help popularize the products and processes.
“As others attempt to replicate one investigator’s findings, they prefer to use the same reagents quoted in the citation in order to not inject additional variability in the experimental conditions,” Kummeth elaborates. Consequently, product usage today augurs well for usage tomorrow.
A Midwest news magazine once called Bio-Techne “the biggest biotech company no one has heard of.” Today, that’s changing. Having established a large and growing catalog and an increasingly broad product line, Bio-Techne can say with justification that its products will be used, at some stage, in every biotech product developed. It is also possible that this distinction has been achieved already.
Location: 614 McKinley Place NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413
Principal: Chuck Kummeth, President and CEO
Number of Employees: 2,300
Focus: Bio-Techne Corporation (NASDAQ: TECH) manufacturers the increasingly complex antibodies, proteins, and instruments that are being used throughout drug development and manufacturing. The company also develops and manufactures diagnostic and genomic products.