A former Canterbury University student has extended his doctoral thesis to start a business with a team of world-class scientists who are developing a unique method of chromatography that eliminates key issues faced by industry.

In January fresh out of university, Sean Feast founded Precision Chromatography – trading as Precision Chroma – to pioneer 3D printed chromatography columns to assist manufacturers of high value biological pharmaceuticals.

The startup was backed up by Feast’s thesis supervisor, Professor Conan Fee, the original inventor of the technology, and now a current business mentor.

“We would be the only commercial company that is producing these columns,” Feast says. “The goal is to create a platform technology that can help manufacturers of these pharmaceuticals.”

The advantages of 3D printed columns over traditional media are that they can be specifically designed to handle larger biologicals by designing flow channels large enough for passage of solids and viscous liquids.

Chromatography is a process for separating components of a mixture. A material called the solid phase is used as an active filter to capture desired components out of a liquid phase. The captured components can then be released from the solid phase separately from unwanted contaminates.

The method Feast and his researchers have developed also eliminates a number of processing steps. Feast says Precision Chroma’s processes will significantly reduce costs by combining three of the steps in the process.

“We combine clarification, filtration, and chromatography into one, saving running costs, but more importantly, time. There will be up-front cost savings due to needing less equipment.”

Precision Chroma Research Assistant Vivek Menon (left) and Dr Sean Feast at Techweek 2022.

There’s been a massive push for biotech, especially after Covid, Feast says.

“Everyone has seen the importance of having strong biotech industries to develop and produce vaccines and lifesaving drugs.

‘Working with industry, we are now tailoring this disruptive technology to reach global markets and lead the way in next generation chromatography.

“The separations industry has grown to expect ever-higher productivity from chromatography processing. Precision Chroma’s innovative technology will exceed those expectations, cutting costs, time and increasing yield.”

Precision Chroma secured seed funding through Bridgewest Ventures New Zealand and Bridgewest’s general manager, John Robson, is a director of the startup.

“He’s been brilliant. He is helping us out any way he can,” Feast says of Robson. “He’s very hooked up in the industry, he’s putting us in touch with the right people, he’s providing business advice and strategy.”

Bridgewest’s contacts in the biotech space are being utilised to assist Precision Chroma, with several international companies showing interest.

The startup is also part of Callaghan Innovation’s technology incubator programme, with Callaghan giving the startup a low interest loan, to be paid back once sales are generated.

A working column.

Feast said despite his qualifications and experience, he could not run his startup without the financial support and business assistance from people like Robson.

“It will be impossible. It’s more than just the funding; you need the direction; you need the correction, and you need to know what you should be doing. I`ve got a strong engineering background, but business skills are something I am picking up and something that John’s teaching me.”

Feast knows Precision Chroma is ‘nothing’ without customers, so providing value to customers and making a positive impact is vital.

“It’s the biggest thing. We’ve linked to a number of companies here and around the world who are really excited by our technology and by the possibility of what we can bring.”

Despite only launching Precision Chroma in January this year, the startup has made good connections, which Feast says is vital for business growth, “especially if you go into a field where you don’t have the skills”.

He is already able to share his business experience to assist entrepreneurs. “Being able to broaden your horizons and teach yourself those skills through networking is probably the best advice I can give.

He says having access to cheaper life-saving drugs has a massive social impact. “If we can make it easier and cheaper, that’s our goal. I want to be manufacturing here and selling to the rest of the world.”

Precision Chroma as a business is not only about dollars and cashflow, either.

“We are not doing this just to make a whole bunch of money – we want to make a difference and make a real impact on the social health here in New Zealand and worldwide.”

Story by Dave Crampton. In partnership with Bridgewest Ventures.

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