Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Dartmouth Engineering Alum Helps Lead the Way for Drug Purification Solutions

By Anna Fiorentino
September 2016 • CoolStuff

Dartmouth engineering alum Kevin Isett Th'11 entered Thayer's PhD program with a paid fellowship from Merck Research Labs and backing from his mentor — serial entrepreneur and Professor of Engineering Tillman Gerngross. Isett was eager to learn how to commercialize biotechnology from the ground up.

Approximately two years after graduating, Isett co-founded and became CEO of Avitide, a Lebanon-based platform biotechnology company that accelerates the process of purifying biopharmaceuticals to meet FDA requirements.

Kevin Isett

"At Thayer I was given independence to do research and pursue ideas, all the while being held accountable to justify those pursuits," says Isett. "It was a very intellectually stimulating experience that played a significant role in shaping the beginnings of Avitide."

Isett, Gerngross, and co-founders Warren Kett and Jonathan Sheller '09 are now on their way to becoming the leading suppliers of protein purification solutions in the biopharmaceutical industry.

Purification is a necessary but costly part of manufacturing in order to meet drug purity and potency standards. The price tag to remove these contaminants can be anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the total manufacturing cost. Moreover, the process of developing a manufacturing purification approach is inefficient and time consuming, largely due to the the complexity of biologic drugs, which can be four or more orders of magnitude in molecular size larger than small molecule medicines like aspirin.

"Purification is the most risky, expensive, and time-consuming component needed to effectively and safely manufacture vaccines, biologics, and gene therapies," says Isett.


Now three years in, Avitide has developed technologies that allow for the purification of therapeutic proteins in a single step. Isett says that Avitide’s method is superior to today's multi-step purification solutions, which can be costly and carry high product losses over each step.

"Developing a conventional multiple chromatography process takes significantly longer and often causes issues when scaling to commercial production," says Isett. "Avitide accelerates this development timeline agonistic of a therapy or vaccine and the technology is inherently scalable from bench to commercial scales."

The startup, which now employs 35, is already partnering with multiple large biopharmaceutical companies.

"My experience at Thayer was transformational to my career," says Isett. "We pushed each other to be better thinkers and doers. I enjoyed the long hours and the fast pace of working with highly motivated scientists and professors."

Tags: alumni, engineering in medicine, entrepreneurship, faculty, leadership

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