The world acts as though it is oblivious to any biotech activity that happens outside of the dominant life science hubs like Silicon Valley, San Diego and Boston.
That is a huge mistake.
In the case of Loma Linda, a city of 25,000 people 60 miles east of Los Angeles, one company has been working for two decades on perfecting a technology that today has the potential to radically overhaul the way we treat patients with COVID-19 and other diseases.
At Loma Linda University in San Bernardino County, California, Aditxt Inc. patented a process for measuring the body’s immune system response. The company has since partnered with Great Lakes Medical Laboratory Inc. in Farmington Hills, Michigan, to launch AditxtScore, a comprehensive immune system response monitoring tool that tracks combinations of antibody responses and neutralizing antibody responses. This new tool enables doctors to assess the strength of an individual’s immune response to the SARS CoV-2 virus.
Amro Albanna, co-founder, president and CEO at Aditxt, says this breakthrough technology was not an overnight success. “This research was done at Loma Linda University over 20 years,” he says. “Now, our human trials are pending regulatory approval.”
Loma Linda University is a private health sciences university in San Bernardino County.
I have always believed that this region has all the ingredients necessary to build a thriving sector in high-tech and biotech. All we have needed is a success story, and now we have one.”
— Amro Albanna, President & CEO, Aditxt Inc.
The university has eight schools; and the Faculty of Graduate Studies offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs. LLU opened a brand new medical campus just last month.
Albanna says that scientists focused on the therapeutic side of research at LLU, just off Interstate 10 west of Redlands. “As we were developing the commercial side, in order to take that approach, we needed a way to profile immune systems — and that was way before COVID-19 hit — almost three years ago,” he says. “We began working with Stanford to develop another platform then. We licensed that technology. And then, in early 2020, when COVID-19 arrived, we started looking at the various capabilities we had. Everybody was looking at infection status early on. Everyone was focused on controlling infections. But in the next phase, the focus will transition from detection to protection.”
Albanna says that Aditxt takes the guesswork out of diagnosing patients with COVID-19. “People wonder if they have immunity. This is where the additive score comes in,” he notes. “Rather than guessing, you will know for sure. Our immune system responses are all different. Now is the time when we need to take a more individualized approach to the pandemic.”
Founded in September 2017 by Albanna and two other co-founders, Aditxt “is about developing biotech to improve the health of our immune system,” says Albanna. “The goal is to address autoimmune disease and allergies. Our immune system overreacts and begins to reject transplants. When our immune system overreacts, ADI comes in. It was designed to see if we could ultimately retrain the human immune system. Long term, our goal is to enable transplant patients to live healthy lives without rejection.”
Right now, says Albanna, the company’s focus is on transitioning from pre-clinical to clinical trials. The initial clinical trial will be done in Germany and will focus on psoriasis.
Being in San Bernardino County is an advantage for the firm, says Albanna. “We would not be here without our relationship with Loma Linda University. LLU has been a great partner.”
University Incubator Gives Life
Leading the charge for the creation and attraction of more biotech ventures in San Bernardino County is Dr. Michael Samardzija, associate vice president for research development at Loma Linda University. Five years ago, he founded n3EIGHT (pronounced “incubate”) at LLU, a center that helps students, researchers and businesses work together to convert laboratory discoveries into commercial products and services.
Speaking of the success that Aditxt has enjoyed with LLU, Albanna says, “Our partnership is an example of how to bridge the gap between intellectual property and the market.”
He adds that the region has only scratched the surface of what is possible. “I am very familiar with this region and all the things it has been doing to advance biotech,” Albanna says. “This region has so much going for it. You can imagine what an example that the success of Aditxt will set for more initiatives in biotech in the region. I have always believed that this region has all the ingredients necessary to build a thriving sector in high-tech and biotech. All we have needed is a success story, and now we have one.”
Samardzija says this is only the beginning. “I need to have a venture fund that will invest in startup companies from LLU and attract them to this ecosystem,” he says. “My long-term goal is to create this ecosystem here. When you don’t have the money, these companies will move. Aditxt demonstrates that companies will form and have an exit from LLU. The next step is — can we develop the ecosystem and have them stay here? It will not happen overnight. But over 10 to 15 years, it can bloom into something big.”
We like the workforce, proximity to clients and the great infrastructure that we found here in San Bernardino County.”
— Dmitry Dukhan, Vice President of Real Estate, Medline
So far, the life-sciences incubator at LLU has created 18 or 19 companies. “About eight or nine are still part of the incubator,” says Samardzija. “I don’t mind failure. I just want to get to failure as quickly as possible.”
Most of these startups fall into one of these categories: medical devices, biotech, pharmaceuticals or diagnostics. One company housed at LLU is working on a diagnostic device that looks at blood clotting in patients. COVID-19 causes blood clotting issues with a certain segment of the population.
“We have found a way to measure this blood clotting,” says Samardzija. “We are developing a potential treatment that will be given to them. This is critical, because once the blood clotting is found, it is too late.”
Samardzija says the tide is turning at LLU for the better. “We had our best year in history in terms of grant funding. With more research activities, the more discoveries occur. This enables us to move companies and new products forward. We have turned things around from a research perspective. That will be the engine that will provide innovative ideas to our startup incubator.”
He adds that “we are not just talk. We are action. Things are happening. It takes time and more investment. But if we stay disciplined and stay with it, we can have a true life-sciences cluster in San Bernardino County.”
Medline Bets Big on Rialto Site
On the manufacturing side, life sciences have been alive and well in San Bernardino County for a long time. Case in point is Medline, the largest privately owned medical products maker and supplier in North America. In 2016, the medical device manufacturer built a 1 million-sq.-ft. distribution center in Rialto to support the company’s growing health-care customer base from Southern California to Las Vegas. About 500 people now work at this location.
Dmitry Dukhan, vice president of real estate for Medline, says that his company conducted a strategic search to consolidate several smaller distribution sites in the region into one larger complex and to add potential growth in Southern California. Medline selected the Renaissance Rialto Business Park in the City of Rialto in San Bernardino County because of its proximity to a large population in the region and its ability to capture future sales.
“We like the workforce, proximity to clients and the great infrastructure that we found here in San Bernardino County,” says Dukhan. “We looked at about a 200- to 300-mile radius from San Diego to Bakersfield and Fresno. We have a facility in Tracy that serves Northern California and Oregon. We also have one in Temecula.”
The most important location factor, he notes, is access to qualified labor. “It is the most challenging time we have seen, but what sets Medline apart is that we are the employer of choice. When you look at our total package of pay and benefits, we stand so far ahead of the competition because of the pay, bonuses, tuition reimbursement, and other benefits we provide our workers. We promote 70% to 80% from within. We just take care of our people.”
Dukhan says the workforce of San Bernardino County stands out from its competition in the region. “It is a great combination of a welcoming community and a plentiful labor pool with an eagerness to work hard in the industrial sector,” he says. “San Bernardino County welcomes the industrial work and promotes it. It allows for plentiful housing and infrastructure to compete for these opportunities. People are being priced out of their homes in coastal areas. Here, we are close to folks who can afford to live in a nice house within 10 to 15 minutes of their job.”
Dukhan says Medline will continue to look for opportunities to grow in North America, where the company has 24 manufacturing plants and 45 logistics facilities.
Medline at a Glance:
24 manufacturing sites
in North America
45 distribution centers
27,000-plus employees worldwide
Over 300,000 products
No. 21 on the Forbes 2020
list of America’s largest
“As a family-owned private business, our competitive advantage is going above and beyond for our customers and creating the best environment for our team members,” he adds. “We have invested over $2 billion in our infrastructure. We are the pre-eminent company in the healthcare and medical device business. And our most important asset is our culture.”