The closure of the Discovery Research operations at Pfizer in 2003 didn’t close the doors for two employees; it opened the doors of opportunity. Dr. Robert Gadwood and David Zimmermann had worked with numerous contract research organizations (CROs) worldwide while at Pfizer and its previous incarnations, The Upjohn Company and Pharmacia. Based on their client experiences they identified three clear areas that CROs often failed to deliver to their clients:
- True medicinal chemistry experience and synthetic chemists that have made a biologically active molecule
- Scientists that have the experience to solve complex synthetic problems
- The ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with a pharma partner
In April of 2003, co-founders Dr. Robert Gadwood and David Zimmermann formed Kalexsyn to provide small to medium pharma companies with these services other CROs could not.
Robert and David formed Kalexsyn with the intent to focus services around these three areas. In order to do this Kalexsyn needed to hire medicinal chemists, experienced in multiple sciences, and they found them right in their own back yard. Due to a downsizing at Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the area was flooded with chemists who did not want to leave the Kalamazoo area. “The workforce was suddenly available to us, and these people (chemists) could not be found in any other city,” commented Robert.
In addition to the workforce being available, Kalexsyn decided to build their business in Kalamazoo because they saw an opportunity. “We recognized the business opportunity in Kalamazoo and wanted to stay here,” stated Robert. When Pfizer downsized they donated much of their laboratory equipment to Western Michigan University, who in turn allowed Kalexsyn to purchase this material at a great price.
The Southwest Michigan Innovation Center was the home of Kalexsyn for four years, and then they built their own research facility in the Western Michigan University Business, Technology and Research Park in 2007.
Since Kalexsyn’s inception in 2003 they have experienced significant growth. “We hired our first two chemists in March of 2004,” stated Robert Gadwood. “Kalexsyn went from two employees and zero chemists in 2003 to a staff of thirty, including twenty-two chemists in 2008.”
Kalexsyn’s growth is attributed to working hard at growing the company. “We found a niche working with small and medium pharma companies that need a higher level of chemistry support than what they were receiving,” stated Robert. Kalexsyn continues to grow this need, particularly in the synthetic medicinal chemistry market. “We pride ourselves for turning projects around in a shorter time than our competitors, while also offering a higher level of quality of chemistry,” stated Robert. “We provide quality and timeliness.”
Kalexsyn’s customer base is primarily from East and West coast locations. They do have customers in Michigan, which accounts for a small portion of Kalexsyn’s customer base. Robert is expecting Asian and European markets to expand in the future, but the growth is not expected to exceed their national growth. “Most companies are usually global, there is no reason for them to stay local,” stated Robert. “Customers seek vendors who provide the greatest value for their dollar, regardless what distance is between them.”
“We are continually working on becoming a small but highly advanced CRO with less than 50 employees; a company that is thought of as providing solutions to hard chemistry problems with high performance, and agility,” commented Robert.
In 2003 Kalexsyn started working with Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) Business Consultant Melissa Angel. Robert and David attended a series of SBTDC presentations regarding the Pfizer downsizing. Melissa offered one-on-one meetings with clients to discuss their business ideas. “There were many people giving us advice, some good and some bad.” stated Robert. “Melissa was very knowledgeable and was very encouraging. She was credible and gave great advice.”
“The SBTDC team was extremely important to get us on track to build a small business. There are a lot of people that talk “fluff: and the SBTDC didn’t. They helped with the nuts and bolts of starting and growing a business. They addressed the practical everyday needs of a business,” stated Robert.
“I am very grateful the SBTDC was and continues to be available.” “The first couple of years in business were very tough,” stated Robert. “It was good to have a business consultant to discuss situations that we encountered.”