New innovator: BlackLabBio

David O’Connell: It’s a “radical new way of purifying protein”.

David O’Connell: It’s a “radical new way of purifying protein”.


BlackLabBio is a new spin-out company from University College Dublin headed by David O’Connell of the School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science.

O’Connell’s area of expertise is protein engineering and he estimates the global market for engineered protein products will be about $168 billion by 2017. BlackLabBio is targeting large, biopharma companies. It is already working with Novartis, Astra Zeneca and specialist technology company Silicon Kinetics in San Diego, USA.

“We have developed a patented technology in the protein engineering space that can potentially save producers a lot of money,” O’Connell says. “They face extremely steep production costs associated with highly complex manufacturing processes so an innovative technology that cuts cost is of major interest to them. What we’re doing represents a radical new way of purifying protein that can save time as well as money. We are already working with a number of producers in the areas of biotherapeutics, kit reagents and sensor technologies.

“In essence our platform molecular technology streamlines the process steps to make them simpler and more cost effective. This enables companies to produce higher yields of valuable protein products at a reduced cost,” O’Connell says.

To date O’Connell has received funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and commercialisation support for the fledgling company from Enterprise Ireland. Its development is also being supported on the IP and patenting side by Nova UCD, the college’s technology innovation centre.

BlackLabBio began the patent application process for its technology back in 2011 and expects to bring its first product to market in about 12 months’ time. It will employ three people initially and O’Connell says the ultimate objective is to provide a significant number of high calibre jobs.

“There is a lot of development work to be done in our area and few companies doing it so we will be looking at ongoing development and the creation of further technologies and resultant IP,” he says. “For example in a B2B setting we could have a role in the development of the blockbuster drugs of the future working with companies such as Pfizer and Novartis. We are innovating in the process space and specialise in developing the sort of very expensive therapeutic molecules on which these new drugs are based.”

To date O’Connell has raised about €500,000 in funding and is aiming to raise the same again to ramp up the company’s development. BlacklabBio is based at the Conway Institute of Biomedical Research which O’Connell says is an ideal location for an emerging high-tech company. “There are many different investigative research projects going on and it is very useful to have colleagues to bounce ideas off,” he says. “There is also sufficient critical mass there to promote collaboration and we also have access to very high-spec technology and laboratory space.”