Beginning in June 2020, ownership and operations of Utah State University’s Synthetic Biomanufacturing Facility (SBF), located on Innovation Campus, was transferred to Perfect Day, Inc., a California-based animal-free dairy protein producer.
“This new arrangement is a win-win—for Perfect Day, for Utah State and for Cache Valley,’ said Lisa Berreau, USU’s vice president for research. “It’s connecting the right expertise and resources with the people who need it.”
Established in 2014, the Synthetic Biomanufacturing Facility was created to support research associated with the Utah Science and Technology Research (USTAR) initiative. The facility was initially designed to produce pilot-scale amounts of synthetic spider silk to support the commercialization of USU Professor Randy Lewis’s innovative research.
The SBF facility includes a wide variety of equipment needed to do pilot scale upstream and downstream bioprocess demonstrations and development, including fermenters, incubators, centrifuges, spectrometers and freezers.
“The SBF is a unique resource that provided access to world class equipment and staff to USU’s academic and commercial partners interested in scaling up the production of a wide variety of bioproducts from food products, animal feed supplements and biopharmaceutical components," said Christian Iverson, director of USU’s Technology Transfer Services.
In 2017 Utah State University conducted a national search to hire SBF program manager and director Sridhar Vakalapudi to oversee the technical operations of the SBF, as well as to attract and manage new contract research projects outside of the university.
Before joining SBF, Vakalapudi had worked in several reputed industries in the United States and abroad, with 20 years of strong industrial experience in various microbial fermentation-based products.
“As director of SBF, Sri really had to be a creative problem solver,” said Iverson. “He oversaw the development of a website and other marketing materials, and he went across the country to look for potential clients. His goal was to turn the SBF into an extension of a research development facility for other groups, private companies, and some academic institutions.”
Under the direction of Vakalapudi, the facility has done work for over 20 private companies as a research service.
"I started from scratch with zero clients and took initiative in attracting clients from the east and west coasts and completed several projects for pharma, biopharma, biotech, biologics, food, cosmetic and agricultural industries,” said Vakalapudi. “During my tenure, I worked to maintain high quality and cost-effective contract fermentation manufacturing services and also upgrade our infrastructure."
Iverson credits those improvements and the admirable foundation SBF has established with attracting Perfect Day as the new operator of the facility. Vakalapudi, along with the other employees of the SBF, will stay on with the facility under Perfect Day.
The California-based startup company will run the facility as a new entity, Scalable Bio Facility, Inc., (SBF, Inc.) as a successor-in-interest, allowing Perfect Day to pilot strategic R&D projects. However, Perfect Day will act as a SBF customer and operate under strict privacy walls between the facility and its existing customers.
"Under Vakalapudi, the SBF grew from an underutilized resource into a valuable operation that was beneficial for the university and for the local economy," said Iverson. "The acquisition by Perfect Day and their future investment in the facility will keep an important resource in the community, and ensure our employees and clients are taken care of."