Imagine what’s possible.
A cancer medication breakthrough. A treatment for people with Alzheimer’s. A life-changing drug for people suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Veloxity Labs, LLC, Peoria’s first biotech contract research organization (CRO), allows us to imagine all of those possibilities. As such, it is the 2022 Startup of the Year, chosen by Bradley University’s Turner Center.
“We provide specialized analysis of medical samples for pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are developing pharmaceuticals to treat disease – Alzheimer’s, hypertension, cancer – many types of disease,” said Shane Needham, CEO and co-founder of Veloxity Labs, which is located in the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center. “Our vision is treating disease one sample at a time.”
Basically, when a drug or biotech company develops a new medication to treat disease, it must first be tested in lab animals before it can be tested in people. During animal testing, blood samples are collected. Veloxity Labs analyzes those blood samples for concentration of the drug in order to determine its efficacy. If the analysis indicates the drug is effective, the manufacturer can move on to human trials, Needham said.
According to its nomination letter to the Turner Center, Veloxity Labs “is changing the way the industry operates,” in part through its state-of-the-art Veloxity Electronic Laboratory Operations system. The latter provides an automated and traceable workflow from the first contact with the client through the analysis and reporting of the data, which in turn accelerates turnaround times and eliminates errors.
Being selected Startup of the Year was a great surprise, Needham said.
The Turner Center has assisted the company with initial business setup, referrals to local providers, questions about lab buildout and connections with faculty at Bradley University.
“We’re overwhelmingly grateful and honored for our whole team,” Needham said. “It’s such a gift.”
In the beginning
Needham, who lives in Moscow, Idaho, has a Ph.D in chemistry. He formerly worked for Pfizer before becoming an entrepreneur starting up CROs.
In the summer of 2021, Mitch Johnson, a chemist who grew up in Ottawa, Illinois and resides in Germantown Hills, reached out to Needham through LinkedIn. Johnson wanted advice from Needham about starting up his own lab.
“Mitch explained his business plan and his ideas and by the end of the conversation, it went from me mentoring him and giving him advice on starting a CRO to us doing business together,” Needham said.
When Needham asked Johnson where he was thinking about locating the lab, Johnson told him Peoria.
“I asked him why Peoria,” Needham said. “He told me about the innovation lab.”
Not only did Needham immediately schedule a trip to central Illinois, he reached out to colleagues and soon had a team of potential investors with a combined 100 years of experience on board.
Once he visited, Needham thought “Peoria was the perfect place. Great quality of life. No traffic. A museum, easy-to-maneuver downtown, education centers nearby – Bradley, Illinois Central College, University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, Eureka College – huge health care hub, accessible airports … a baseball stadium and professional sports.
“It checked all the boxes. You could attract young professionals easily,” he said. “I just said, ‘I’m all in.’ There were no yellow flags or red ones.”
Veloxity Labs began leasing two 800-square-foot biotechnology-specific wet labs in the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center and officially started operations on March 1 of this year.
A bright future
Currently, Veloxity Labs has 12 employees, while forecasting a doubling in size every six to eight months over the next four years, Needham said.
“We’re still pretty much building the science team – adding mostly scientists from entry level to those well trained in method-development and familiar with the biomedical space,” Needham said.
“Auxiliary staff will be added – project managers, accounting, data entry, data management …”
Being a private, employee-owned CRO is unique. “It gives our employees skin in the game,” Needham said. “A lot of CROs are publicly traded or equity group owned. When we succeed, our employees succeed. Being private allows us to focus on the long-term investment for clients instead of the short-term that some of our competitors have to think about to please Wall Street.”
In the next one to two years, Needham sees Veloxity Labs not only adding staff and clients but “becoming a preferred employer in Peoria.”
While Needham can’t get into the specifics of the work Veloxity Labs is doing due to proprietary reasons, non-disclosure agreements and such, he does say “we’re building a reputation and we have capacity to add more clients, from small to large.”