Pharmaceutical Research Firm Looks Around the Bend

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Rod Ray

Chemical Engineering

Change is a constant at Bend Research Inc. Staying nimble in the changing world of chemical research also is the driving force behind the company's three decades of success in developing membrane and novel drug-delivery technologies.

Since joining Bend Research in 1983, Rod Ray (PhD ChemEngr '83) has held numerous positions working his way up through the company. As president and chief executive officer, Ray is charting a new course for the company as it enters its next phase in the development of pharmaceutical and health care products.

"We're a unique technology development company," says Ray. "Our engineers, biologists, and chemists can solve a customer's problem from concept to commercialization. We market ourselves as a problem-solving company with a lot of technologies in our toolbox."

Founded in 1975, Bend Research is one of the oldest high-tech firms in Bend, Oregon. Early work was in conducting contract research primarily in membrane technology for the government and for private clients. (A membrane is a layer of material that serves as a selective barrier.) Bend Research developed a product line of membrane systems that remove water from compressed air to keep equipment from freezing up.

Through the years, Bend Research spun off four companies, including AquaAir, which developed a synthetic membrane with molecular filters used by the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental cleanup and used by NASA for wastewater cleanup and dehumidification. Consep (now Suterra) is another Bend Research spin-off that manipulates insect pheromones to control agricultural pests.

Since 1994, Bend Research focused on Pfizer Inc., the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company, as its sole client to develop novel drug delivery technologies. During that time Bend grew from $10 million to more than $40 million in sales.

One of the latest technologies Bend Research developed for Pfizer is the spray-dried dispersion technology, which evaporates liquid into a powder that increases the oral bioavailability of low solubility drugs. Another Bend Research technology is used in the Pfizer product Zmax, a new microencapsulated single-dose antibiotic contained in tiny beads that release the drug into the body over time.

Recently, Bend Research ended a 15-year exclusive partnership with Pfizer when the pharmaceutical giant downsized. This shift allows Bend Research to work independently with other companies while continuing its collaboration with Pfizer.

"It was a mutual agreement for us to not be exclusive with Pfizer," says Ray. "We're keeping Pfizer as a major customer, but also adding new customers. Working with Pfizer helped our company grow and develop tremendously and in return, we helped Pfizer advance a significant number of their compounds."

As other large pharmaceutical companies downsize, they're relying on outsourcing and Ray is ready to fill their needs. The immediate goal for Bend Research is to establish a new client base and build revenues to replace those Ray expects to lose from the dissolution of the exclusive agreement with Pfizer.

"The more the pharmaceutical companies get themselves the right size for the current economic environment, the more they'll look to companies like Bend Research," says Ray. "In the current economic climate, a research company has to be nimble and quick and good at multi-tasking, and our engineers and scientists are very good at that."

Bend Research will continue its focus on developing novel delivery methods of drug treatments that go directly to the affected organ or area in the body while preventing damage to normal tissues.

"We'll continue to concentrate on applying fundamental scientific and engineering principles to understand our clients' needs, help them define their problem, and provide proprietary new technologies to fill those needs," says Ray. "Our most valuable asset is our team of engineers, biologists, and chemists who relentlessly apply their knowledge and expertise toward new technology development."

Ray credits Bill Krantz, a former professor of chemical engineering at CU-Boulder, for teaching him the nuances of writing proposals and how to promote scientific work to funding agencies.

"I learned quite a lot about writing good proposals while I was at CU," says Ray. "Professor Krantz taught me how to be a good engineer."

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