Leaders at Franklin-based B2S Life Sciences have been tossing around the idea of #BuggiesToBiotech hashtag to help share its unusual story within Indiana’s business landscape. Once housing horses and carriages as a livery when it was built in Johnson County in 1907, the former “eyesore” is now home to the most modern operation in downtown Franklin. Analyzing cutting-edge drug discoveries and manufacturing biological reagents, B2S Life Sciences says the historic space now supports its rapidly-growing 21st-century company.
The shadows of yesteryear still exist inside the quaint brick building. In the early 1900s when it was a livery, visitors or townspeople would board their horses and park their carriages during short-term visits. B2S Chief Executive Officer Aleks Davis says the horses were kept in the basement, and a lift moved carriages to the second floor for parking. A 1,000-pound pulley and gears that operated the system still hang from the second floor ceiling.
Davis says the niche service that B2S provides fits well with downtown Franklin’s small-town feel; the city has also invested millions of dollars in downtown revitalization projects, including street improvements, small business loans for shops and restaurants and façade updates.
“We operate in a space that’s not traditional for organizations that support drug development,” says Davis. “We’re a little bit different than the larger companies that offer drug development support to pharmaceutical companies.”
The company’s roots date back to 2002, when three Eli Lilly and Company alumni formed a drug development consulting business named after the founders’ last names: Bowsher, Brunelle and Smith—B2S. As sweeping change altered the pharmaceutical sector throughout the following decade, an unmet need in the industry became a business idea, and the group formed B2S Life Sciences in 2015.
“In the past 10 to 15 years, pharmaceutical companies have been through this shift of releasing or decentralizing core competencies—wanting to [outsource] certain aspects of drug development that are more variable,” says Davis. “That’s essentially what allowed us to be here; pharmaceutical companies are relinquishing those capabilities and looking for others to fill them.”
B2S Life Sciences focuses on biologics, which are genetically-engineered drugs derived from human cells, unlike conventional medications that are comprised of molecules synthesized in a lab. B2S’ work centers on reagents, which perform early-stage chemical analysis for drug development.
“If a pharmaceutical company needs to measure their drug, or how the drug changes the characteristics of the body, we can build the test using reagents that we make specific for that drug,” says Davis. “That’s a different approach to reagents; normally, reagents are procured from a website somewhere that’s offering a million different things. What we do is very customized to the drug product itself.”
In addition to maintaining its consulting services, the company also manufactures reagent products for certain types of therapeutics, specializing in oncology and diabetes. While most of that business has been in the U.S., B2S recently shipped its first product internationally to Germany.
Davis says B2S Life Sciences grew from three clients in 2016 to more than 60 now. Large contract research organizations (CROs) comprise about half of its customer base, with large pharmaceutical companies and small biotech businesses and startups equally sharing the other half. B2S has clients in each of those business segments in Indiana, with other customers concentrated in various regions, including the East and West coasts, Europe, China and Australia.
About 10 people share 3,000 square feet of renovated lab space in the historic building, “so we’re tight,” says Davis. With the building’s renovation only partially complete, plans call for an additional 10,000 square feet of lab space, including a modular independent lab system B2S will devote to startups or other small operations.
“We could open that up to them as an option to rent or lease space with us,” says Davis. “Lab space is difficult to find in central Indiana; it’s difficult to go rent lab space for a small project without making a significant investment. We think a lot of people would use that.”
It’s believed the building was also a print shop in the 1930s or 40s, as printing machines from that era were also uncovered there. While the function of the building has been modernized, Davis says its historical treasures will be preserved and featured in B2S’ office design—a tip of the hat to “the history of the building and the time that’s passed from buggies to biotech.”
Davis says B2S’ relationship with Franklin College and the welcoming nature of local leaders were factors in the decision to locate in the city.
Davis explains how B2S’ reagents help the company’s clients analyze potential drugs.