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Local biotech startup raises $10 million

NABsys, a Providence biotechnology company with Brown connections whose research could be used to treat cancer, recently raised $10 million in venture capital. Located in the Jewelry District, the company sits in a biotechnology research and life sciences hub that political leaders say is key to the state's long-term economic vitality.

The funding will fuel the continued growth of the company, which focuses on DNA sequencing and analysis. "The company has been doubling in size every year for the past two years," said Barrett Bready '99 MD'03 , president and CEO of NABsys and adjunct assistant professor of physiology. The company was started in 2005.

A significant portion of the $10 million will go toward hiring, said Eli Upfal, consultant to NABsys and a Brown professor of computer science. The company needs the "best people in chemistry, biology, cheap design and algorithms," he said, adding that attracting high-quality talent requires a considerable amount of money. The funding will also be used to purchase new machinery and software, Upfal said.

But the money will not just facilitate further company development — it also serves as a testament to how much NABsys has grown already, he said. "Every round of funding shows that outside researchers and investors have more and more confidence in the direction of the company," he added.

While none of the money will go to Brown directly, the University has had ties to the company since its inception. The company was started with technology licensed from Brown and its original founder was Brown physics professor Sean Ling, now no longer involved in managing the company. Many Brown professors ­— including Nobel laureate and Brown physics professor Leon Cooper and Franco Preparata, professor of computer science — serve as advisers to NABsys. John Oliver, the company's vice president of research and development, is a former Brown assistant professor of chemistry.

The funding will ultimately benefit Brown, Upfal said. The company hires many Brown graduates, and its growth would mean more demand for Brown's biomedical research, he added.

The timing of the funding coincides with the creation of a seven-member commission to oversee the development of land in the Jewelry District made available by the relocation of route I-195. Bready has been nominated by Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 to serve on the commission and was confirmed by the state Senate Corporations Committee Tuesday. He faces a full Senate vote on his confirmation today. Upfal said development of the district will make it a more attractive location for NABsys' continued expansion.

Though Bready declined to comment on specific plans for the district until he is officially confirmed, he said he sees great potential for the technological rebirth of the district and Providence as a whole. In the past, he said, "Providence was arguably the wealthiest place of its size in the entire world," the "technology leader of the day." As the biotechnology industry continues to expand, he said he sees an opportunity for Providence to excel once again.


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