Worcester Business Journal Online
Tuesday November 22, 2016
Demand for high-quality reagents from the pharmaceutical industry has led to growth at New England Peptide, a Gardner manufacturer of the small pieces of protein. Since expanding 14,000 square feet early last year, NEP has hired a chief financial officer, a chief strategy officer and a human resources manager to help the company in its transition from a small business to a midsized one. The strategy? Cut down production time while maintaining product quality, according to President and CEO Sam Massoni.
Massoni spoke about research needs, NEP's largely female employee base, and the literal meaning of "peptide."
What is a peptide?
A protein is made up of a chain of hundreds to thousands of amino acids. A peptide is the same structure, but only 50 amino acids or less in length. So a peptide is just the scientific word for a small piece of protein. Why that's significant is NEP can chemically synthesize a peptide that can mimic or increase protein function, and we can use that as a drug or as diagnostic tool for disease.
How do you use them?
Since peptides are just small versions of proteins, we can use them to study protein function. Proteins/peptides play many critical roles in the human body. They can be enzymes which control many of our thousands of chemical reactions; they can be antibodies that bind to foreign particles to protect the body; they provide structure and support for cells; and they are involved in delivery and storage of molecules throughout the body. Since we can manufacture them, we can alter them to increase or decrease any of these functions and in turn develop a drug that cures disease. A good example is insulin. Our bodies produce it naturally, but those who don't produce it become diabetics. We can synthesize a modified peptide that will mimic insulin's function and use it as a drug to maintain the disease.
Our customer base is anyone studying any proteins in the world. They contact us, give us the amino acid formula and we manufacture. We provide peptides and antibodies to pharmaceutical companies, biotechs, hospitals and research universities.
There are many peptide blockbuster drugs, with over $1 billion in sales annually, that have stemmed from peptide research in variety of industries. NEP has been cited in more than 500 scientific publications over the past 18 years.
Where are your clients located?
We serve a worldwide audience of 26 countries. Basically, our customers are pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, research universities and hospitals. Really anyone doing research on proteins and how they affect disease, we sell to them. It's a worldwide product, which is nice.
How do you promote your product internationally?
Mostly through internet marketing. We attend international trade shows, and we do some print mailings as well. It's 95-percent internet.
You expanded last year. Why did that happen?
We grew 25 percent for two years in a row. Last year we grew 25 percent, and the year before 25 percent. The need for high quality peptides is driven by pharma. The expansion ended up being 14,000 square feet. A big goal of ours was to focus lowering the delivery times for our product. We've always had a high quality product, but wanted to cut down on production time. Our product takes 3-4 weeks to manufacture. We wanted to increase efficiency while maintaining quality and growth.
We compete with overseas companies. They're unregulated. We already offer the highest quality, so we're trying to compete with them on speed as well.
Have you been able to increase efficiency since the expansion?
We have; we've cut production times. Last year, we averaged a 97-percent online delivery rate. We're looking at between 5 and 6 percent reduction in time. As we spread out, we invested in instrumentation, hired a full time CFO and CSO, and we hired a human resources manager to support all of the growth.
We're going from a small company to a medium-sized company, and we're positioning ourselves to maintain quality and increase our speed.
How many employees do you have?
We're at 50 now. We probably brought it up around 7 people last year. These are mostly bachelor-level scientific technicians, I would say, and a couple associates folks.
What sort of educational background do you look for in potential employees?
Any science background -- biology, chemistry, environmental science. We do have some engineers as well. We have people with non-scientific backgrounds who have been very successful as well in manufacturing.
We have three positions open for lab technicians. We have one sales position open.
What's in the future for New England Peptide?
Our first goal is to fill our new 14,000-square-foot addition! The future is really centered around maintaining quality while decreasing delivery time. We also have a catalog of 5,000 peptide standards called TrypTides, used in the quantitation of proteins for diagnostics within the mass spectrometry proteomics community. We just expanded the line from 2,000 to 5,000 products -- and we're going to be growing that substantially over the next few years. The TrypTides catalog currently covers 10 percent of the human proteome, or 10 percent of the proteins in the human's body. We plan to double that over the next next three years.
Our facility is good for the three years for sure. We can probably do double the production we do today, and we'll probably hire 5 to 7 employees per year when all goes well.
You mentioned demand from pharma is driving your growth. Can you expand on that?
Research is really difficult. You're studying an unknown phenomena. You have a lot of variables in your experiment.
The quality of research reagents has been a real issue. We've always been a high-quality manufacturer, and phama's need for high-quality products for their research has increased. You try to mitigate risk when doing an experiment.
There's a crisis right now where research can't be repeated. It has something to do with poor reagents. We always have the highest quality products, and that is driving our business. That and being able to deliver on time is critical. If you're planning an experiment, on-time deliveries are critical.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I think it's worth noting that the COO and cofounder, my wife Jennifer, the CFO, and vice president of customer service are all women.
Also, 71 percent of our lab techs are women, which is pretty cool. Women in science is something we actively promote.