Dr. Richard Somiari, the founder of ITSI Biosciences, a life-science enterprise in the Johnstown region, is preparing to move his company into its new headquarters by year’s end–just in time to expand field investigations of a blood-sampling method that promises to increase the speed and lower the cost for early detection of breast cancer. That work received a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Phase I Research Grant from the National Cancer Institute in July.

After what appears to be a long search for the right space, ITSI-Bio’s third move promises to be a charm for a four-year-old business that represents a bellwether for the efforts to attract a cluster of life-science enterprises to the Johnstown region.

“We’ve been carrying on our work in about 1,500 square feet and need the flexibility of a custom-built laboratory,” Somiari says from his present location in the Kernville neighborhood of Johnstown, Cambria County. The new location will place the company, which provides analytical services and sampling kits for bioscience laboratories worldwide, in a 10,000-square-foot facility nearer the heart of Johnstown.

ITSI-Bio will initially occupy half of that area, where it will be able to broaden its basic analytical services to bioscience researchers. In addition to analytics, the company also offers kits for isolating, handling, testing, and monitoring proteins, as well as reagents used to tag biochemical reactions. “That business has kept the doors open while we have pursued our method for early breast cancer detection,” Somiari says.

The detection protocol draws upon about 20 biological markers, some of which have been clearly associated with breast cancer and others that Somiari has identified for the blood-sample analysis that he hopes to demonstrate as a faster and more precise testing method.

While that goal has directed his passion as a scientist, he has been closely identified with the future of biotech in Johnstown. He came to the region from the University of Maryland in 2000 to start the Windber Research Institute, the region’s first biomedical research institute. Only later did he form his own company to develop a commercial product–deciding, as he says, that it would be a good idea to practice the entrepreneurship that he had been preaching.

The NCI grant will finance expansion of the breast-cancer-test sampling and independent validations of results through UPMC McGee Hospital, Indiana Regional Medical Center, and the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh. It will also support the development of algorithms to analyze results, as well as development of a Phase II NCI grant for up to $1 million.

Source: ITSI-Biosciences, Richard I. Somiari
Writer: Joseph Plummer
Original Article: http://www.keystoneedge.com/innovationnews/itsibio1204.aspx