It's the most unlikely of places to be exploring the regeneration of brain cells and new ways to attack cancer.

Exposed brick walls tell the story of its time as a livery stable. Upstairs, the wooden floor and faint signs offering "Beer 15 cents" testify to the days it was a German dance hall. Soaring overhead are the twin towers of Mother of God Church, remarkable for their Renaissance splendor even in this city of churches.

It's a beige building on Covington's Russell Street. A simple sign identifies it as BioLOGIC. It's a place where truly impressive things are happening. It houses an expanding life science development firm with a collection of Ph.D.s and labs. It's individual companies, co-located. An accelerator, not an incubator. Inside, scientists are working on genetic testing and new ways to treat cancer, traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer's. They use biotechnology to develop drugs and technologies. They work to clear regulatory obstacles and get them to market.

In three-and-a-half years, it's brought in more $16 million in private, federal and state funds.

So, why Covington? There's not a hospital tower or skyscraper in sight.

First, what do they do?


BioLOGIC helps emerging biotech companies set up operations and secure financing, explains Margaret van Gilse, vice president of development. It develops and implements business and marketing plans. It provides labs, office space, and investment expertise. It guides companies through the maze of government regulations; for example, FDA approval.

Setting up individual labs would cost millions. Working this way, scientists can take a development from research to global distribution.

"To be able to get that by walking 20 feet is unimaginable," says Dr. Nilabh Chaudhary of the expertise and support available at BioLOGIC, where he operates NeoCytex Biopharma.

Its track is a fast one. Founded in 2006, BioLOGIC moved to Kentucky in 2008 to 1,500 square feet at the Roebling Bridge Toll House building. The need for lab and office space brought it to the 4,500-square foot space on Russell Street in 2009.

It's not a small, local firm. The company has affiliates in China, Colorado and Australia.

Who's Who?

Operating under the BioLOGIC umbrella are several different companies. The scientists are comfortable taking time to explain what they are doing and how. They have the brains, experience and chutzpah to take on big challenges. Dramatically condensing their résumés puts one at risk of leaving out something really significant, but it also provides the chance to drop names like Mayo Clinic, University of Peking, Children's Hospital, Eli Lilly and Nobel Laureate.

Van Gilse describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. She's a local. Her biology/chemistry degree is from Thomas More; her MBA from Xavier. Her background is in business developing, consulting and management, and Dr. Chaudhary calls her the "major player" in making it all happen.

Dr. Charles LeCroix spent 26 years with Procter & Gamble Research and Development before becoming a consultant for western firms interested in markets in Asia, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and Australia, and vice versa. He teaches at Northern Kentucky University and at McGill University's Japan program. He came out of early retirement to join the BioLOGIC group because this is "an exciting group to be with," and he talks about their passion and experience. "The lure of coming back in based on skills, ability and education" was attractive, but the hook, he says, was the chance to work with these players.

"A new paradigm in treating cancer" is the focus of the work being done by Dr. Ray Takigiku. It's induced apoptosis, or causing tumor cells to kill themselves. During his 18 years at P&G Pharmaceuticals, he was director of Discovery Core Technologies. He was co-director of the Genome Research Institute at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine before co-founding Bexicon Pharmaceuticals, which operates from the BioLOGIC location. His co-founder, Dr. Kevin Xu, received his medical training at Peking University and earned his Ph.D. at the Mayo Clinic. He was a senior research scientist at P&G along the way.

Dr. Ellen K. Monson worked in biologic drug development at the Indianapolis pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly before joining UC as the director of Intellectual Property Office. Very interesting work, she says, but being "more of a scientist at heart" led her to join the PrimeDP team at BioLOGIC.

Dr. Chaudhary introduces himself as Neil. He calls himself a migrant worker as he explains how his education and research has taken him from New York City to Houston, Boulder, Cleveland, Orlando and now Covington. His time in New York was spent in research in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Günter Blobel. He says it's critical to "follow the science." Right now his focus is on enhanced neurogenesis. The enhanced regeneration of brain cells could redefine the treatment of stroke, Alzheimer's and brain injury patients, he explains.

So, Covington?


It's the perfect location, van Gilse explains.

Just a stone's throw from the expertise and resources of Children's Hospital and UC, Covington is very attractive to scientists who value community "brain power" and the support of professors and researchers.

Also, "it's a lot easier to get things done in Kentucky. We're the big fish in the little pond" of biotechnology, van Gilse says. And, don't overlook Southern hospitality. "Kentucky welcomed us." When BioLOGIC was introduced at the Covington Business Council, members stood in line to welcome them. "We walk down the street and people talk to you," van Gilse adds.

The work of Northern Kentucky's Vision 2015, Tri-ED, and the ezone entrepreneur group are also pieces in the puzzle that made Covington the place to be for the global effort. There's clearly "a lot of momentum," van Gilse says.

And when it comes to money, Kentucky has been extremely generous. Kentucky has matched funding, extended loans, and supported BioLOGIC to the tune of some $700,000. The payoff is in the creation of products and high-paying jobs.

Clearly, it was all the right things at just the right time.
 
Dianne Gebhardt-French writes about the newsmakers of Northern Kentucky. Longtime local journalist and former editor of the Kentucky Enquirer, contact her at (513) 297-6209 or dfrench@cincymagazine.com.