By Marti Webb Slay
When Molecular Designs and Streamline Scientific co-founders Ty Thomas, MD and Chad Austin, MD established their first lab, it was based on a desire to better serve the patients in their medical practice.
“We started our own physician office lab in 2012,” Austin said. “We were frustrated with the lab market and wanted to could eliminate the time gap. We thought if we figured out how to do it ourselves, we could cut time, provide better patient care, and end up saving money. It turned out we could actually make money doing it.”
Eventually they founded Assurance Scientific Laboratories, which has recently rebranded as Streamline Scientific and Molecular Designs. They have just moved most of their operations into a new state-of-the-art facility in Birmingham’s Perimeter Park. The rapid growth and success of their efforts meant they had their choice of locations when they moved, but they opted to stay in Birmingham.
“It wasn’t guaranteed that this would stay here,” Austin said. “We have clients throughout the country, and there were discussions to move. But we didn’t want to. We had to sell Birmingham to our investors. We told them that Birmingham has great talent. It’s a great medical community, a great biotech community, and a great place to live.”
“Board members were largely unfamiliar with all Birmingham has to offer, and we said ‘look at what we’ve built here. Look at UAB. We can be headquartered here,’” said Shawn Hood, president. “Today, we collectively see the full value and potential of Birmingham, its talent base, and vast resources.”
“I’m really excited about the facility,” Austin said. “It was fun to design and build.”
The new location boasts over 7,000 square feet of space for CLIA lab, manufacturing, and research and development, in addition to a 25,000-square-foot distribution facility. Those spaces are now ISO-certified, and include clean room manufacturing, three negative pressure R&D laboratories, six high-speed Tecan filler machines, and 500 square feet of cold chain storage. The companies currently employ approximately 130 people.
It’s quite a change from the humble beginnings of starting the lab in their medical practice. After taking two years to establish that lab, Thomas and Austin had a skill set they wanted to share. “We realized there was a gap in the market and wondered why it was so hard to do this,” Austin said. “We felt we could offer a consulting service for physicians who wanted to establish a lab in their own practice by developing what we could and outsourcing what we could, while the physician only had to deal with one person. That didn’t exist in the lab world.”
Now branded Streamline Scientific, the company will equip and optimize an existing lab or establish a new lab. Or physicians can avail themselves of the Streamline Scientific lab and often get results within 24 hours.
But the services don’t end there. They not only work with physicians, but other labs as well. “If another reference lab, even a competitor to Streamline, wants to bring on some new tests, we can help them. We can help them buy the equipment and get it running,” Austin said. “We have our own lab, so we’ve experienced all the problems our clients are going to have.”
They offer more than advice, however. “We also design, develop, and make tests to sell to other labs,” Austin said. That work falls under the scope of Molecular Designs.
“Molecular Designs looks at what new lab tests we can offer,” Hood said. “And manufacturing our own ingredients helps from a cost standpoint. Other labs are buying their ingredients from large manufacturers. We believe we set ourselves apart because we can provide better service and be more flexible. If we can provide those things and be more competitive on the price, then that’s why they come to us.”
The goals of the two companies support each other. Molecular Designs sells product to over 150 labs around the country, even as Streamline Scientific helps set up labs and runs lab work from its original Acton Road location. “Since CLIA lab uses our product every day, we know our product inside and out. If any problems come up, we’re going to know first. It’s a kind of downstream quality control. We also find out from our reps on the ground what the doctors want,” Hood said. “It helps our research and development to know what we should be working on next.”
They already have a plan in that regard. “Infectious disease is our primary space right now, so we are going to continue to finish out the panels most desired in that space,” Austin said. “We are expanding into GI. We also have plans to get into cancer tests. COVID has expanded PCR technology. Our expertise in PCR allows us to do some tests in a much more affordable way. That’s a direction we are moving next. We want to continue making quality products that are easier to use, and to run them on a smaller platform and make them cost effective.”
With the opening of the new facility, it’s clear both companies will maintain their headquarters in Birmingham, while they continue to expand.
“Most people wouldn’t expect to find this in Perimeter Park,” Hood said. “This is in Birmingham and available to our physicians. It’s in their backyard. Our private equity partners said we needed a world-class facility that local employees would want to work at, and that when anyone from across the US comes to look at it, they would be impressed. I think we’ve accomplished that.”