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NZ Biotech Start-up Launches North American Branch Office

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, June 4 NZPA - New Zealand biotech start-up Zygem Corporation has started a branch office near San Diego in its pursuit of the billion-dollar global market for DNA tests.

The Hamilton-based company's office in Solana Beach plans to target the North American market and to tap into the San Diego region's large community of biotech companies.

The chief executive of Zygem's North American operations, Paul Kinnon, said today that it will be exhibiting at the US Biotechnology Industry Organisation's four-day convention in San Diego from June 17.

"It'll be a massive opportunity from a networking point of view," Mr Kinnon, told the North County Times in San Diego.

A Briton, Mr McKinnon was hired by Zygem from Invitrogen Corp, a Californian maker of biological research products.

In New Zealand, Zygem's scientists look for thermophile microbes in tough environments, such as Antarctica or hot springs, and search for enzymes that degrade cell walls and interior membranes to release DNA.

Its main range of DNA-testing products exploit an enzyme from bacteria collected from a volcanic vent on Mt Erebus in 1981 for scientific purposes.

University professors Roy Daniel and Hugh Morgan took the bacteria from nearly 4000m up Mt Erebus, just 100m from the summit, during a six-week expedition in 1981.

The heat-stable enzyme remains active up to a temperature of 75degC, while others used in existing DNA tests degrade at 37degC. The process has less risk of contamination and is faster, meaning one person can prepare 10,000 samples in the time currently taken to test 3000.

The scientists involved in the discovery, their universities and a venture capital company, Endeavour Capital, set up Zygem, which now owns all the intellectual property derived from the Antarctic discovery.

Mr McKinnon said New Zealand's biotech cluster was small and isolated, which he claimed fostered "creativity, innovation and free-thinking".

"They're not encumbered by a lot of the bureaucracy and a lot of the process that goes on in the USA and in Europe which makes people think they have to do things in certain ways," Mr Kinnon said. "It's a smaller environment, so there's not so much looking over somebody's shoulder."

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