Local firm put pedal to the metal when it comes to automated drug sampling

PVI Systems President Will Schramm explains the functioning of a dual arm liquid handler Tuesday in the company's Niantic headquarters.
PVI Systems President Will Schramm explains the functioning of a dual arm liquid handler Tuesday in the company's Niantic headquarters.

East Lyme - With the simple concept that "two arms are better than one," the Niantic-based engineering firm PVI Systems and its related software company, Sound Analytics, have partnered with Pfizer Inc. to develop a machine that speeds up the drug-discovery process.

And this, say company executives, could mean that advances in fighting cancer, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases could reach drugstore shelves a little faster, potentially saving lives.

Just this month, the company unveiled at a major conference its latest Apricot Designs Dual Arm Autosampler, which executives estimate may speed up the drug-sampling process by 50 percent to 75 percent when compared with single-arm machines. The machines use a mass spectrometer to analyze drug samples for certain properties that make new compounds more likely to succeed when given to patients during clinical trials.

"We're like a science project," said Eric Breeden, new business development manager for PVI, during a tour of the 4,800-square-foot company headquarters on Liberty Way, where a backroom contains new machines in various states of completion.

PVI Systems started in 1999 when Will Schramm and two partners peeled off from careers in the defense industry to found a company that could provide customized solutions in a wide variety of applications. With backgrounds in software and hardware design as well as mechanical and electrical engineering, the partners' first major contract was with Pfizer and its research-and-development headquarters in Groton, where it worked on improving laboratory automation.

"We grew slowly," Schramm said. "We like to do organic growth."

By 2005, laboratory automation had become so central to the company's business that the partners decided to spin off that work as a separate firm, Sound Analytics, under a slightly different ownership structure. Sound Analytics concentrates on the software side of drug-discovery applications, while PVI Systems provides engineering support for a wide variety of businesses.

The two companies work side by side, with three full-time personnel devoted to Sound Analytics and nine focusing on PVI. But Schramm said the work environment is very adaptive, so during stressful times for either company, personnel from the other firm can be called into action quickly to help out.

Schramm said PVI has particular expertise in developing automated systems to improve manufacturing processes. The challenge has been to convince companies that investing in new systems can help improve their bottom lines.

"We're competing with the status quo," he said.

PVI has worked on engineering solutions for the telecom and testing industries as well as Connecticut companies such as Sikorsky, Electric Boat and United Technologies, Schramm said.

"We can take a client's 'paper napkin' concept and transform it into a turnkey system, perform R&D studies on a new product, offer consulting services on new processes, or simply be an engineer for hire to help finish a project," according to the company's website. "Constant communication and interaction between our engineers and our clients is crucial to the success of each project."

Schramm said that in addition to Pfizer, Sound Analytic's clients have included many of the world's major pharmaceutical firms, including Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline.

"The software allows the operator to efficiently screen unprecedented numbers of compounds by allowing for automated runs of many different batches without pause," according to a company website.

While Sound Analytics has been developing new technology with Pfizer, it has an agreement with Apricot Designs in Covina, Calif., to manufacture the machines, he said. Pfizer has not constrained the company from selling the autosampler to competitive drugmakers to boost its production of new medicines, he said.

"We like to work on a variety of things," Schramm said. "It's nice to go from the start to the finish."



What: PVI Systems/Sound Analytics

Where: 16 Liberty Way, Niantic

Who: Will Schramm, Wayne Lootsma

Years in business: 15

Total employees: 12

Phone: (860) 691-3005

Website: pvisys.com


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