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Why this biotech startup chose to call Peoria home

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Kirsty Wigglesworth
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AP
Veloxity Labs is a new biotech startup founded right here in Peoria. WCBU recently interviewed Veloxity's president and CEO, Dr. Shane Needham.

Veloxity Labs is a new biotech startup founded right here in Peoria.

Tim Shelley recently sat down with Veloxity's president and CEO, Dr. Shane Needham, about why the Idaho resident decided to start the bioanalytical research company in the River City, and how their work will play a key role in the development of new drugs and treatments.

TIM SHELLEY: Tell me a little bit about your background.

SHANE NEEDHAM: I'm from Idaho. If I would identify myself, I am a father of four. That's my biggest accomplishment. I have four children, ranging in ages from 14 to 23. And that's my biggest accomplishment.

And so my family's very important to me, but I'm also a serial entrepreneur. So I have started many laboratories called contract research organizations, or CROs, and that's what Veloxity is as well. I've also started other scientific and scientific investing businesses for capitalizing other companies, and helping other companies with startups and so on and so forth, consulting wise, but also capital [for] businesses.

And so it's just been a great ride and an opportunity came up to actually with some business partners who just have great experience, background and integrity, and to start another laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, and it's just been a dream. So far, it's been just a great run. I graduated from Washington University way back when, and then I actually went, and I worked for Pfizer, and in Groton, Connecticut, and from 1983 to 2000, I worked there. And I worked on my PhD at the University of Rhode Island at the same time. And then after I graduated with my PhD, I became an entrepreneur for the first time. I started a laboratory. And that laboratory still exists, and it's going really, really well. And now I have an opportunity to do the same thing with Veloxity.

What brings you to Peoria halfway across the country? You could go anywhere in the United States. Why here?

So what brings me to Peoria? I think that's a wonderful question. Well, you know, when I was first talking, when my business partner, Mitch Johnson reached out to me, in let's see, June or July of 2021, he reached out to me as kind of a mentor to throw some ideas off me. And the next thing, you know, at the end of the conversation, we're talking about going into business together.

And so I and I asked him why he had all these good ideas. He had a marketing plan, he had a business plan, he had all these other ideas. He had great experience. And he just had a great personality and great traits to go into business with him. And to be an entrepreneur, but also a scientist. He has a PhD in chemistry in in science as well. And so I asked him, where's it going to be and he said 'Peoria.' I said, and my first reaction was, 'oh, Chicago, huh?' He's like, 'no, no, no, no, no, no, not Chicago. In Illinois, there's Chicago, and then there's everything else.'

A couple months later, I scheduled a visit. And I went and visited Peoria, and he told me all about it. He told me about the educational opportunities. He told me about the work ethic of the people, the customer service orientation of the of the people, the quality of life, the affordable housing, the connections to Bradley University. And so all those things, and all those things sounded great, but I'm like, I want to see this for myself. And all those things are boxes that I would like to check.

When I start a business - and my other businesses have been started in similar location to university towns. So you have a young educated workforce, you know, a science department and so on and so forth. So we came to Peoria, and I immediately landed at Peoria airport, and I just fell in love with the people, and just very passionate about the people. And they were just willing to serve, courteous, respectful, wanting to work, grateful and generous. If I had to use two words to describe the people of Peoria, it's gratitude and generosity. And so I was hooked.

And so we went to visit the NEXT Innovation Center and Michael Stubbs there, and then we kind of toured Bradley University and the NEXT innovation center. They have bent over backwards to make sure that we have what we need to start a business, and then I started meeting the mayor and the city council and the Economic Development Council. And it's just like, everybody aligned and is on the same page with growing an economy, putting biotech businesses in - which is what we are at Veloxity Labs - putting biotech businesses here and growing that part of the economy. So it I just fell in love with the people. It was about the people.

As you mentioned, Veloxity is a biotech business. What exactly do you do?

We are what they call a contract research organization. And we serve biotech and pharma clients to to help them develop new therapeutics to treat disease. And our laboratory is actually what they call a bioanalytical CRO. So we actually do the annual clinical testing of biological matrices.

So, for example, a pharma or biotech will test a therapeutic in many different species, rats, dogs, monkeys, humans, all of those, they're all different species. And they'll usually collect a blood sample, thousands of blood samples, because they have to see how the therapeutic interacts over time in the actual body, how it metabolizes, what happens to it, how much there is, how much disappears over time. And so they send us those blood samples, or sometimes we get urine samples or synovial fluid samples or spinal fluid samples, or even tissue samples from some of the smaller animals. And so we test those biological matrices, we test those four levels of the therapeutic, or levels of the drug that are in those actual matrices. And then we give the results back to our our pharma partner, and they decide, hey, is the drug working? Is it doing what it's supposed to, so on and so forth. That's what we do.

So let's say I'm developing the next drug for, I don't know, hypertension, diabetes, whatever it might be, any kind of common condition like that? What role do you really play in developing that new drug in that process?

That's what's so exciting about it, is to be involved in the actual process of even maybe a smaller part of it, but a cure for disease, you know, a treatment for disease. And our vision is actually advance our CRO, or advance our laboratory, to treat disease one sample at a time. And so that's how we're involved. And so without the data that we provide to our biotech and pharma partners, without that data, they can't get a drug approved for oncology, cancers, hypertension, for diabetes, or whatever it is. Without that analytical data that we provide them, they can't move a drug forward. It's required; that data is required for the FDA. So we are a part of treating disease one sample at a time. And that's very, very exciting.

Veloxity Labs opened in Peoria on Monday. The employee-owned company is starting small, but already has clients lined up, and Needham says they are eyeing growth opportunities. In a decade, he envisions having between 50 to 100 employees, and forecasts double-digit growth each year.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.