CFD Research Corporation started out more than 20 years ago in the aerospace industry. Now the company’s biomedical technology branch is housed in the HudsonAlpha Institute. Sameer Singhal, a director in the branch, explains how the family business boomed into biotech.
Q: How did CFDRC begin?
A: My father, Dr. Ashok Singhal, founded CFDRC in our basement back in 1987 with an initial focus on aerospace and nuclear energy. A few years later, a small biomedical group was formed and over the last 10 years, biomedical and life sciences has grown into the company’s largest division.
Q: When did you move into the institute, and why?
A: The biomedical technology branch of CFDRC moved to HudsonAlpha in April of 2008 as one of the original resident associate companies. We moved, in part, for improved laboratory facilities, opportunities for collaboration between the non-profit side and other associates, and increased exposure from being associated with HudsonAlpha.
Q: Can you tell us about your leadership team?
A: Our senior leadership has been with the company for more than 20 years. It includes Sangeeta Singhal – CEO and co-founder; Dr. Ashok Singhal, president and founder; Dr. Andrzej Przekwas, chief technology officer and co-founder; Sami Habchi, executive vice president; and Dr. Vincent Harrand, vice president technology commercialization. Overall, we have about 100 employees, with 22 at HudsonAlpha and the rest at our headquarters on Wynn Drive.
Q: How is the company adapting to the world of biotechnology?
A: CFDRC, including the biomedical branch, still primarily works with government on defense-related programs –U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, DARPA, etc. The biggest change is that the company started out doing computational modeling, or more specifically, computational fluid dynamics –the CFD in our name– and very little experimental work. The biomedical branch started out doing fluidic simulations as well, and used these for projects such as redesigning a hemodialysis catheter to minimize recirculation and shorten dialysis time. However, the branch also started building prototype devices to test and validate these simulations. While still maintaining our simulation roots, the present day branch also focuses on laboratory research and prototype development.
Q: What are your primary projects at the HudsonAlpha location?
A: CFDRC develops and commercializes cutting-edge biomedical technologies. The technologies all share the common theme of enabling better, easier and/or cheaper ways of doing something. A partial list includes:
• Microfluidic biochips (lab-on-chip technology), a self-contained, credit card-sized device which enables miniaturized sample preparation and analysis, replacing large equipment and multi-step processes
• Bio-inspired power sources and sensors, which enable renewable high energy density batteries and miniaturized ultrasensitive label/reagent free detectors
• Systems biology and bioinformatics tools, which enable computational construction of intracellular pathways and complex database solutions for “omic” datasets [proteomic, genomic and metabolomic].
Q: Why is that important?
A: Small businesses have a long history of producing some of the most innovative concepts and products due to their flexibility and agility, which allows them to perform high-risk, high-reward research projects. CFDRC is able to take advantage of this to develop products which will play critical roles in enhancing laboratory research projects, thereby enabling quicker learning, and eventually making health care tools more readily available through miniaturization, ease of use and reduced cost.
Q: Who stands to benefit the most from your products and services?
A: Most of our initial target applications are intended for direct use by government customers, but products will be adaptable for the consumer market as well.
Q: What are some of your challenges?
A: One of the main challenges is taking a product from initial concept to laboratory demonstration and eventually marketable product. CFDRC has great success in going from concept to lab prototype, but it is significantly more challenging, both funding and engineering-wise, to take a product all the way to market. For this we actively engage with interested industrial partners and biomedical device companies in order to further develop and transition our products.
Q: Has the relationship with HudsonAlpha been as successful as you had anticipated?
A: The relationship has been great. The facilities and staff are first class and always make a great impression on our collaborators, clients and customers. Additionally, the opportunities for collaboration with the other associate companies and the institute itself are very valuable. Finally, the chance to participate in institute-hosted events and meet the “who’s who” of Huntsville and the biotech community are invaluable.
Q: What’s next for CFDRC?
A: CFDRC will continue to grow its core research and development business. At the same time we want to further transition our technologies and develop more products by actively engaging with interested industrial partners and biomedical device companies.