SALT LAKE CITY — The multinational French biotechnology company bioMérieux took the next step forward in a partnership with Utah-based diagnostic equipment manufacturer BioFire with the opening of a new manufacturing facility.
The companies celebrated Wednesday the opening of the Alain Mérieux Center for Molecular Diagnostics in University of Utah Research Park, where researchers and manufacturers can work more closely to develop better, faster and more-reliable diagnostic equipment.
"The first thing we looked for in the acquisition was a strong connection between the scientists at the University of Utah and the entrepreneur," said Alain Mérieux, founder of bioMérieux.
The bioMérieux company, founded in 1963, traces its roots back through the Mérieux family to 1897 when Marcel Mérieux studied with the founder of microbiology, Louis Pasteur. BioMérieux is now working in 150 countries and operating through 42 subsidiary companies.
The new building, a roughly $100-million investment by bioMérieux, has 285,000 square feet of space and includes power features that meet the silver standard for sustainability by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
BioFire, which started out as small firm known as Idaho Technology, moved to Salt Lake City in 1999 for better proximity to the University of Utah's medical students and research assets. The company has had large-scale success within the United States, but has had modest international sales. The partnership with bioMérieux is aimed at expanding international sales.
Mérieux said the new facility could accommodate the growth for BioFire's manufacturing for the next five to 10 years.
He also said that the new facility demonstrates bioMérieux's confidence in BioFire.
After bioMérieux's 2014 acquisition of BioFire, the company hoped to diversify its diagnostic capabilities with a technology that can turn a six-week long diagnostic process into a simplified hour-long test.
"We developed a system, about seven years ago, that really changed the way we do diagnostic testing," said Randy Rasmussen, CEO of BioFire.
Doctors used to have to individually guess which disease might be affecting a patient based on symptoms, slowly working their way down a list of potential illnesses. Rasmussen said his equipment simplifies the process by consolidating groups of diseases into a test that can sort through dozens of potential diseases at a time. BioFire's FilmArray technology uses a diagnostic machine that chemically processes the patient's fluid sample and sequences the DNA of the pathogen in order to identify it.
"With infectious disease, it is a bit of a race," Rasmussen said, "between the organism trying to divide in your body and your immune system trying to kill it."
He said that speedy diagnosis is key to treating illnesses before they progress.
"It is absolutely a fantastic weapon for the future in terms of fighting against infectious disease," Mérieux said.
The new facility manufactures both the FilmArray test packets and the machines that process them. Researchers are developing new tests to diagnose a wider array of diseases, while manufacturers are able to produce and update the hardware and software for the tests from the same building.
Rasmussen said the decision to join research and fabrication negates any cost-savings that might be had from outsourcing the manufacturing.
He said BioFire is working on new fever and pneumonia tests to add to its catalog of diagnostic panels.
BioFire's FilmArray tests already have panels for respiratory illness, viral and bacterial pathogens, blood culture, gastrointestinal illness and a panel for meningitis and encephalitis.
As of March, BioFire sold about 4,500 processing machines worldwide.
The company employs around 1,200 people and has another 200 openings for research, manufacturing and software development positions.