New UTHSC facility embraces orphan drugs
by Samuel X. Cicci
If the demand for a certain drug isn’t there, what business incentive do companies have to manufacture it? That unfortunate reality creates orphan drugs, pharmaceuticals that remain undeveloped due to a lack of commercial viability. Many people with rare diseases might go without treatment due to this phenomenon.
Take away profitability as a primary factor, however, and you end up with the Plough Center for Sterile Drug Delivery.
The center is at 208 S. Dudley, the renovated Holliday’s Fashion Building that the University of Tennessee Health Science Center purchased seven years ago. Construction on the $16 million facility began in September 2015, and the project is expected to be finished later this year.
The Center houses three 800-square-foot PODS that act as sterile environments in which the drugs are produced. They will allow the facility to attain the Good Manufacturing Practices designation, which indicates that the premises meet the pharmaceutical industry standards. Initially, the center will produce small-batch drugs in either injectable or semi-solid dosage forms for pre-clinical, phase one, and phase two trials.
“Hundreds if not thousands of drugs are in the pipeline for phase one and phase two trials,” says Dr. Kennard Brown, executive vice chancellor and COO of UTHSC. “So part of this facility’s objective is to support drug discovery research and enhance the expediency with which drugs can reach the market.”
Getting drugs to market has always been difficult for smaller ventures for a variety of reasons. As a result, many patients don’t realize the benefits of drug research, as ideas may be trapped in the conceptual stage indefinitely if developers don’t have connections or funding. The Plough Center’s mission is intended to allow for an easier transition from the research pipeline to consumers. Orphan drugs will be the main focus going forward, making UTHSC poised to be at the forefront of drug discoveries.
This won’t be the first iteration of the Plough Center. The new facilities will expand upon the original location in the Van Vleet Building on UTHSC’s campus. Formerly known as Parental Medication Laboratories, it has more than 50 years of drug manufacturing experience. While the old lab was capable of small-volume pharmaceuticals, the new facility will offer production capabilities on a much larger scale.
With the advent of a large manufacturing base, however, comes the need for safe products. There can be serious repercussions when standards slip. “In 2011, a compounding company in Massachusetts made a steroid,” says Harry Kochat, manager of the Plough Center. “They were making and selling it, but their quality went down. They made something which got contaminated, and they sold it. Sixty-four people died, of which 40 were from Memphis and Nashville.”
Old electronics are repurposed with a conscience
by Jane Schneider
As technology advances, the electronic gadgets we rely on, from computers and video game consoles to Kindles and iPads, become obsolete — and fast. Which means most of us have probably two or more pieces of electronic equipment that need to be disposed of safely. In fact, electronic waste is the fastest growing category of trash in the United States where half the states require e-waste recycling (although Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas have no such legislation).
But the demand, whether mandated by law or not, is growing. That’s where companies like ER2 come in. This fully certified recycling company — ER2 stands for Electronic Responsible Recyclers — does more than ensure e-waste doesn’t wind up in local landfills. In addition to recycling everything from computers and cell phones to modems and servers, the company safely disposes of personal and company data, refurbishes used computing equipment, and makes rehabbed electronics available for online resale at an affordable price.
Established in Mesa, Arizona, in 2010, ER2 opened its second location near Downtown Memphis in October 2015. Inside this stylishly refurbished warehouse at Georgia and Fourth Street, young employees whiz by on small scooters, moving deftly around the airy, 69,000-square-foot building where, amid huge cartons of used office equipment being sorted, you’ll also spy less conventional elements, like a cornhole game and basketball goal. While these entrepreneurs take their business venture seriously, they also encourage the staff of 20 to have fun and contribute ideas of their own, a practice that has helped move the company forward.
ER2 was launched by managing partners Chris Ko and Rick Krug. Krug is a 53-year-old entrepreneur who learned the recycling business from Jim Greenberg, considered one of the pioneers of electronic recycling. Growing the business in Memphis made sense logistically, Krug says, with FedEx’s hub here and the ability to more readily serve clients in the eastern United States. Since becoming established in the Bluff City, they’ve added to their client list, servicing institutions such as Vanderbilt, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Regional One, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Shelby County Schools.
But the fact that ER2 opened this $2 million facility in one of the city’s poorest zip codes also speaks to the ethos of the company, which strives to be responsible not only to its clients, but to team members, the community, and the environment. “We look to revitalize places, to make an impact on the local community with jobs,” says Ko.
Krug’s community involvement (he lives in his downtown condo when tending to business in Memphis) led him to Steve Nash, who heads Advance Memphis. The faith-based nonprofit works to improve the lives of people living in South Memphis, and because of the connection, ER2 hired several employees from the neighborhood.
Its industry certifications, by e-Stewards, NAID, R2:2013, and others, also hold the company to a higher standard. Such certification means zero percent of the materials it processes winds up in landfills across the country. “We’re also not sending products to banned countries like China,” adds Krug.
Jeff Whitney, a former executive with FedEx who now oversees quality, environment, health, and safety for ER2, says much of the $1.6 million renovation of the building was done by Krug and Ko themselves. The public spaces have a distinctive feel, with locally produced artwork giving it a hip, contemporary vibe.
Walk into the warehouse and you’ll see huge cardboard cartons filled with batteries, processors, calculators, old phones, cords and cables, servers, computers, printers, and other electronic parts. Desktop computers, stacked in columns that resemble Jenga towers, are wrapped in cellophane and await buyers.
When office equipment arrives at ER2, the materials are assessed for value. Some products, like computers, can be rebuilt. Others get completely de-manufactured, taken apart and sorted by components. Materials like plastic, steel, aluminum, and copper go to certified scrap buyers. At those mills, items are shredded or ground down to chips and melted into pellets that can be reused to manufacture new goods.
What makes electronic waste unique, however, is that “everything has data on it that is proprietary,” says Ko. “Companies need to be aware that if it’s not disposed of properly, they’re at risk. A certified company knows how to destroy that data.”
Computers with newer operating systems and processors are often refurbished by ER2, an important segment of their business. Workers make sure SD cards are removed and hard drives are either wiped clean for reuse or removed and shredded. This ensures that secure data is destroyed, says Whitney. Once a computer is upgraded, it is tested by technicians at ER2’s in-house lab, then sold online at outlets like eBay, Amazon, New Egg, and Walmart.com. Even the ads that display the refurbished products are made here, with one corner of the warehouse dedicated to shooting photographs of equipment before information is uploaded to the web.
Ko says he finds charter schools and small businesses are a solid and growing market for the firm’s refurbished products. It also sells to customers in Europe, Asia, and Australia. The computer systems can be customized for clients. ER2 warranties its work and makes tech support available. Most importantly, the sea of e-waste that’s floating out there is less overwhelming thanks to this company.
The small shop on Broad has a global presence and conscience
by Richard J. Alley
In the Binghampton neighborhood, there is a water tower. Painted in vibrant colors, it stands as a monument both to the blue-collar warehouses, loading docks, and saloons that used to dot the area, as well as the change that has come to the revived arts district. Across Broad Avenue from that tower is a plain, brick building — the one-time home of a United States Post Office. To walk into that building today is to feel transported to an artistic Eden, a space more in line with what Broad is today. This is the home of West Memorials, owned by Paul and Missy West, who moved to the street before the arts took over, but after most of the blue collars had left. It was a time of transition for everyone.
Paul got his start in the mid-1990s when conglomerates began gobbling up funeral homes, cemeteries, and monument companies nationwide. He was hired to handle acquisitions. “In order to do that, I had to learn everything,” he says. “I trained with these great monument folks around the country so I would know what I was doing — making them, selling them, distribution.”
by Richard J. Alley
The interview begins with the simplest of questions: “What is it you make?” And yet, the answer is anything but simple and Brandon Bell stumbles as he tries to explain what it is he does to the Luddite sitting before him.
“It’s funny because whenever people have asked me that I’ve always had kind of a hard time explaining. I’d say, ‘Well, I do design, but I do a lot of interactive, and I do a lot of video and motion graphics.’ So I’d sort of list things off and people would ask if I do logos and, yeah, that’s part of it.”
But even this ludite can find Bell’s website and there it is in simple, easy-to-understand, black-and-white pixels: “I make creative digital stuff.”
And he does. His stuff is seen by millions from national stages — he’s created and produced the virtual sets for the Tony Awards, and designed and produced the screen graphics for Ted Talks Live. Closer to home, he’s done online work for Soul Fish Café; designed and developed the website, logo, and packaging for Relevant Roasters coffee company (now French Truck Coffee); and the video animations for the Rock ’n’ Soul Museum’s ceremonies; among others.
An established home cleaning service is bringing Memphians back to their roots with a new, natural product line.
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