American Gene Technologies is on a mission to reshape how deadly diseases are treated. CEO Jeff Galvin talks about the company and it's success in Maryland. Read the success story:
In the early 2000s, Jeff Galvin was a retired Silicon Valley technology investor in no hurry to leave the comforts of home in Northern California. That all changed in 2006 when NIH researcher Roscoe Brady introduced Galvin to tools–called viral vectors–that enable molecular biologists to deliver genetic material into cells.
“I saw that this was going to be revolutionary; incredibly powerful and important in heathcare,” said Galvin.
Shortly after learning about viral vectors, Galvin made an investment to start American Gene Technologies (AGT) in Rockville, Maryland, an area he calls the epicenter of a gene and cell technological explosion. It’s here where Galvin found the resources his new company needed, including technology and talent.
Starting first in an incubator, AGT would spend the next decade growing its business and creating a portfolio of gene therapy innovations that are poised to reshape how deadly diseases, including cancer and HIV, are treated.
Although biohealth was new territory for Galvin, the lifelong technologist has a simple way to translate the power of viral vectors that AGT uses. He equates cells to computers, DNA to operating systems, and gene and cell therapy to applications that run on top of operating systems.
Galvin says although cells are very sophisticated, the components of a DNA molecule (ACGT) are just commands to the cellular machinery to perform an action; just like zeros and ones are commands to the computer. With this mindset, AGT has developed products to change the DNA of cells for better health.
“We can undercut the drivers of disease, or we can install genes that mitigate the symptoms of disease or replace things that are broken in you,” Galvin said.
And after years in the lab, the company is ready to see its innovation put into practice, starting with a treatment that will make HIV patients immune to the disease. The company is also developing cancer cures, which Galvin says will revolutionize the way cancer is treated, offering a less toxic and more effective solution.
“I believe that this technology is going to send radiation and chemo the way of bloodletting and leeches,” Galvin says of AGT’s cancer therapies. “The idea of beaming cancer-causing radiation through you to treat cancer is ironic.”
AGT started in a 250 square foot incubator space at the Shady Grove Innovation Center, eventually transitioned to a 7,000 square foot space, and in 2017, laid down roots in a space more than triple that size. Today, the company employs 25 people at its facility in Rockville.
“The driver behind our expansion was the reality that all of these types of businesses either grow, or get stale and perish,” said Galvin.
Armed with Galvin, a passionate storyteller, as their pitchman and Maryland’s Biotechnology Investor Incentive Tax Credit, AGT has aggressively raised money to fuel their continued growth. The tax credit has been invaluable, Galvin said, as it provides investors with income tax credits equal to 50 percent of an eligible investment in the company.
“Once we learned to use that, that was a very important program for us,” Galvin said. “It helped us raise a lot of money. And it helped us to expand and stay on this track.”
Gavin wants to keep the momentum going, and expects to see more expansion in the future. With 28 patent families valued at $2.4 billion, Galvin is very optimistic about what the future will bring.
“You’ve got this really vibrant biotech hub right here in Maryland, and it’s going to get more and more attractive (for investors),” Galvin said.
Galvin admits thinking he would miss his life in Silicon Valley. But after a decade in Maryland, he realizes that his anticipation of missing Silicon Valley was “grossly overrated.”
Galvin knows Maryland is a good place for technology, talent and business in general. He also argues that it is a great place to live, too. He has a deep appreciation for the state’s diverse population, equal opportunity for all, mild weather, and even the change of seasons.
And with all of that, Galvin said he feels like he’s laid down roots in Maryland, and is even encouraging his extended family to make the move to Maryland. The state offers a location, business environment, and lifestyle that he says he find more reasons to appreciate and enjoy every year.