March 30, 2021
By Sara Gilgore – Staff Reporter, Washington Business Journal
Mar 3, 2021 Updated 20 minutes ago
Ceres Nanosciences Inc., a Manassas company working to improve diagnostic testing for the coronavirus, is expanding its footprint with a new manufacturing facility that more than doubles its capacity as it rides a wave of momentum made possible by the pandemic.
The local firm, a 12-year-old George Mason University spinout, has taken over 12,000 square feet at Innovation Park in Prince William County, where it also maintains its headquarters. The manufacturing plant delivered in fewer than four months to both support the production its customers currently demand and accommodate future growth, said Ceres co-founder and CEO Ross Dunlap.
The company’s Nanotrap particle technology serves as an add-on to existing tests, from point-of-care to large-scale laboratory tests. It aims to augment assay sensitivity and speed up the diagnostic process, as well as improve testing workflows by replacing the need for commercial extraction kits and allowing more tests to be performed. That then cuts costs and increases testing availability.
The addition brings the company’s total footprint above 20,000 square feet, Dunlap said, and “most of that is now dedicated to the production and quality function to get these particles out to the market.”
Facility Logix provided construction management support for the project and Pruitt Corp. was the general contractor. The facility sits within its Discovery Court development.
The growth is supported by $6.57 million Ceres secured in September as part of the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program, an initiative to speed up innovation around Covid-19 testing. “That gave us the ability to very quickly apply capital to expanding,” Dunlap said. And it comes as the company has been “bursting at the seams a bit in the last year, as our team has grown and as the work we’re doing has grown,” he added.
The additional capacity has already changed the game for Ceres, which in early 2020 could produce roughly 2,000 units of its particle, each unit enough for one Covid test; now it can produce millions per week. The facility is set up to supply particles for more than 10 million Covid tests per month.
But the growth isn’t over. The 24-person company plans to create 50 jobs in the next three years, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced Wednesday afternoon. Those positions — in engineering, manufacturing and materials sciences — are supported by Prince William County, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and its Virginia Jobs Investment Program. That program will provide $2,000 for the training and on-boarding of each of these new hires, according to Dunlap, totaling a $100,000 investment.
And the company is already recruiting for production jobs, as well as scientist and technician roles as it looks to “evolve and refine” its platform for other uses, Dunlap said.
That includes adapting its particles for liquid biopsy testing, which involves cancer screening by detecting circulating tumor DNA in body fluid “and being able to capture, detect and actually use that information” to benefit a patient, Dunlap said. “That’s a big area of interest for us.”
That work, which predates the global health crisis, is funded by a $600,000 Virginia Catalyst grant. Ceres hopes to launch a product for sample processing that would be used prior to performing a liquid biopsy test in early 2022, Dunlap said.
With roots in Lyme disease, the Nanotrap technology holds potential beyond its current areas. It’s “a great tool for all of the other viruses,” such as flu, respiratory syncytial virus and Covid variants, and “a key tool in future pandemic responses,” Dunlap said. “Importantly, it can adapt and work with any new variant that arises in coronavirus; that’s a key benefit as well.”
Ceres has secured multiple grants from the NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. The company raised a $9 million Series A round in early 2017, but pulled back on a $10 million Series B round that would’ve supported its liquid biopsy program.
“We started to generate meaningful revenue, and we have a really strong forecast for this year for product sales, and a lot of this is due to selling our product for Covid diagnostics,” Dunlap said. “But if things continue to go according to plan, then I think we’ll be in a really good position to actually start funding our activities and growth and additional development from within.”
To that point, 2020 revenue was “up significantly from the prior year,” Dunlap said, declining to be specific. He expects similar revenue growth this year, or about “five to 10 times” that of 2020.
Although uncertainty remains, “everything we’re seeing indicates that there is going to become a considerable testing need for the foreseeable future, and it’s been growing,” Dunlap said. “So that’s why we’re very optimistic about our revenue growth this year and beyond.”
Ross M. Dunlap
Ceres Nanosciences, Inc.
800-615-0418 ext. 202