To be viable financially in the biotechnology industry means producing quality products, according to Stephen Turner, founder and president of Bethesda Research Laboratories.
Turner founded BRL in Rockville five years ago, bringing to the venture 10 years' experience in the life sciences field.
Starting with $30,000 and 1,000 square feet of Rockville office space, Turner's company began as a supplier of enzyme materials for local college researchers. After establishing a commercial base as a supplier of these specialized products for molecular biology, Turner expanded his operation into developing new genetic technologies.
"It was our business strategy to provide geneticists with the highest quality products with which they could do their work," he said.
Turner added that customer service was an important part of his company's success, "When a customer needs information about a product, he could get first-rate access to Ph.D.'s who can answer his questions," he said. Of the 200 employes at BRL, 40 have doctorates.
Recent BRL developments exemplify the company's success: BRL's sales have doubled in each year of its existence and the firm now plans to expand its laboratories into the newly developed Frederick Research Park planned along Interstate 270, adding an estimated 80,000 square feet to the 50,000 square feet that now house the operation in Rockville.
Turner's company still markets enzymes, yet has diversified into other fields such as recombinant DNA technology.
In March, BRL successfully cloned an amino acid, Proline, into a bacterium, which represented a major step toward developing a strain of bacteria that will produce large amounts of amino acids at low costs. Proline is a fundamental subunit of protein, an essential dietary component for humans.
BRL's current technological activities cover a wide spectrum, from nucleic acid enzymology to protein biochemistry, Turner said.
Turner has downplayed the significance of the recent Supreme Court ruling concerning the patenting of life forms, pointing out that in his field, technological advances quickly make a patentable development obsolete.
"If you get that patent in an organism and it produces X, I hate to say it but probably in two years somebody is going to do it better -- hopefully you," Turner said in a recent speech on the commercial possibilities of recombinent DNA.
Involved in what is considered to be a vastly complex field, Turner has adapted the simple business philosophy of "doing better."